Mommy (2014)

Review #1,144

Director:  Xavier Dolan
Cast:  Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément
Plot:  A widowed single mother, raising her violent son alone, finds new hope when a mysterious neighbour inserts herself into their household.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won Jury Prize (Cannes).
Runtime:  139min
Rating:  M18 for language throughout, sexual references and some violence

“We still love each other, right?”

Xavier Dolan is a year younger than me, yet he has already made five full-length features that have gone on to win awards at major international film festivals, including Cannes, Venice and Toronto.  I can't think of anyone else that age who made such a splash in the filmmaking circuit in the last ten years, and we should be privileged to have decades of great work to see from this fearless filmmaker. 

His latest, Mommy, won the Jury Prize at Cannes, tying Godard's Goodbye to Language.  According to critics, it is his most mature work to date.  It is also my first window into Dolan's world, and I'm suitably impressed.

Mommy is about a feisty foul-mouthed mother who has to take care of his equally vulgar teenage son, who has been released from a facility for youths with behavioural problems.  It is a mother-and-son story, told with youthful zest and intensity.  The dysfunctional 'family' is interrupted one day by the next-door neighbour, a quiet, stuttering woman who finds unexpected camaraderie with the duo. 

The standout aspect of Dolan's film is his handling of the actors.  The lead trio of Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clement, and Antoine-Olivier Pilon give tour de force performances, bringing to life their characters and Dolan's formidable screenplay.  Emotions run high as Dolan captures quite forcefully the angst of youth, and the ferociousness of a mother's love.  The drama is relentless, and the film moves at a zippy pace despite its length. 

The most startling thing about Mommy is that Dolan shot the film in 1:1 aspect ratio.  That means you see the film through a perfect square, with black bars at the top, bottom, left and right side of the screen.  This is almost unheard of in cinema, and I salute Dolan's daringness in creating one of the most unique screen experiences I had in years. 

He also plays with the aspect ratio during the film, and I shall leave you to see it with your own eyes.  The technique is effective, even integral to enhancing the drama and mood of the film, and if that isn't a bold statement of intent by a filmmaker who has supreme confidence in his own ability, I don't know what is.

Mommy is one of the best films of 2014, and despite its arthouse roots, there is enough mainstream accessibility to intrigue most moviegoers, with a killer soundtrack to boot.  This is a must-watch, and a great way to get acquainted with Canada's youngest, and most outrageously talented export to world cinema.

Verdict:  Intense, zippy, and featuring tour de force performances by the lead cast, this relentless drama exudes the kind of youthful confidence that is so unique to Dolan's works.


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