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Film review: Xavier Dolan's Mommy - the mother-son dynamic explored

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2015, 8:14pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 May, 2015, 3:12pm

Xavier Dolan's fifth film in as many years confirms a number of things. First and foremost, the 26-year-old French-Canadian has reached a new level of brazen confidence. Second, he's still as fascinated by the mother-son dynamic as he was in his 2009 semi-autobiographical debut, I Killed My Mother.

Dolan often is called a "wunderkind" and it's a label he's unlikely to shake with this film. Sharing the Jury Prize (with Jean-Luc Godard) when Mommy premiered in Cannes last year, there wasn't a bolder, brighter film on the Croisette.

Set in Quebec, the film opens with a caption explaining that in the near-future, a law is passed allowing parents to commit problem kids into care, bypassing the courts. Don't expect sci-fi, though; Mommy is, for all intents and purposes, a melodrama set in the here and now.

The story follows Diana "Die" Despres (Anne Dorval), a single mum in her fifties forced to retrieve her15-year-old son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon, pictured) from a care facility after he sets fire to the cafeteria. An early scene at home shows just what she's dealing with, as the volcanic teen erupts with anger, spinning around the living room like a top.

Yet Mommy is a three-hander, as Steve and Die's volatile relationship shifts with the arrival of a third party — that of their quiet neighbour, Kyla (Suzanne Clément).

A teacher who seems detached from her own family life, Kyla's friendship acts as a sort of bonding agent; together, you feel this trio of mismatched souls are invincible.

Fostering this intimacy, Dolan shoots the film in a box-like 1:1 aspect ratio. Recalling the operatic intensity of Dolan's earlier work, notably 2013's Tom at the Farm, the film wears its heart on its sleeve; emotions are frequently heightened and the result is both exhilarating and exhausting in equal measure.

It runs at an indulgent 139 minutes — Dolan, who edits his own work, could learn the merits of a leaner narrative. But Mommy forces you to give in to its relentless energy. Dolan conducts it with gusto, leaving us with a cathartic reckoning with his own demons.

Mommy, April 30, 9.30pm; May 5, 9.40pm, Broadway Cinematheque, Yau Ma Tei; May 7, 9.40pm, Palace IFC, Central. Part of Le French May's "Impossible Love, the Self(ie) Generation: Xavier Dolan" programme. On limited release at BC from May 28