Xavier Dolan is an incredibly talented 25 year-old French-Canadian filmmaker, who seems obsessed with the Oedipal mother/son relationship. His first film, the semi-autobiographical “I Killed My Mother,” made when he was 19, explored the betrayal he felt when his exasperated mother sent him off to boarding school. In this thematic sequel, he examines the maternal bond from a different perspective. Read on…
Widowed for three years, mercurial, middle-aged Diane “Die” Despres (Anne Dorval) works as a children’s book translator and house cleaner in suburban Montreal. Afflicted with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), her 15 year-old son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Piton) is prone to loud, violent outbursts and irresponsible actions.
After setting fire to the cafeteria, combative Steve is expelled from juvenile detention. So Die must assume complete care of her uncontrollable, mentally ill teenager. Unexpected help arrives from their neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clement), a shy teacher with a speech disorder, who agrees to tutor Steve.
In Canada, apparently, there’s a new law that allows an anguished parent to hand over custody of a difficult child to the state. While this obvious ‘escape hatch’ hovers over the psychodrama, feisty Die summarily rejects it, although a youth counselor tells her: “Loving people doesn’t save them. Love isn’t enough.”
Filmed by cinematographer Andre Turpin in a 1:1 aspect ratio, the frame is a perfect square – in contrast to most films, which are more wide than tall. As a result, writer/director Xavier Dolan’s unique choice evokes a raw feeling of constricted, claustrophobic compression, perfectly matching the chaotic subject matter, particularly with his use of close-ups.
Despite his youth, wunderkind Xavier Dolan has already directed five feature films. He started as a child actor in TV commercials when he was four. Among his many jobs as he grew up, he dubbed the voice of Ron Weasley in the French-language versions of the “Harry Potter” franchise.
In French with English subtitles, on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Mommy” is an edgy, emotionally explosive 8, individualizing an exhausting struggle many parents are forced to endure.