The fraught relationship between a single mother and her troubled teenage son forms the theme of Xavier Dolan’s stunning new film Mommy (ICA London and selected cinemas nationwide).
The setting is Quebec, time the present. Canada has passed a controversial new law allowing parents to abandon their behaviourally disturbed children. Diane, in her forties and recently widowed, is once again living with her 15 year-old ADHD suffering son, Steve, after he was expelled from a juvenile centre for starting a fire. The pair fight and argue but are forced to re-establish a relationship and work out how to co-exist once more.
As the duo make sense of each other, an introverted neighbour Kyla, a married teacher, is soon involved in their lives and she becomes firm friends with Diane and helps educate Steve. During one teaching session Steve ad Kyla have a spectacular argument but are later reconciled. However, Diane’s troubles are by no means over as she is served with a $250,000 lawsuit from the parents of a child who was burned in the fire started by her son.
This is Dolan’s fifth feature – he’s still only 25 – and he does a terrific job, demonstrating a growing maturity, a youthful energy and seemingly limitless imagination (His breakthrough film was I Killed My Mother, also dealing with the relationship between an adolescent and his mother).
Shot in a striking 1:1 aspect ratio which seems to frame each character within their own personal prison (the screen widens to normal length in happier moments), the film carries a strong emotional charge, while Dolan’s compassion and love for his characters means that we can fully engage with them and the predicaments they face which in no way lessens the shock and unpredictability of it all.
The movie boasts knockout performances from its uniformly excellent cast, most notably from Antoine Olivier Pilon as the uncontrollable Steve, whose angel face hides devilish deeds and Anne Dorval as his cash-strapped, long-suffering mother, Diane. Suzanne Clement is equally commendable as their meek, stuttering new neighbour, Kyla.
Songs by Dido, Counting Crows and Oasis boom out over the musical interludes and give the drama added resonance.
In short then this is a work of bracing visual dexterity and bold originality that stirs the heart and the mind.
Playing at ICA London and selected cinemas nationwide from 23 April 2015
Last modified: March 30, 2015