I finally got a chance to watch the latest work of young French-Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan. Mommy won the Jury Prize in Cannes in 2014.
The mommy in question is Diane “Die” Després (played by Anne Dorval), a single middle-aged mom (widowed for three years) struggling to retain steady employment in the city of Chambly, Quebec (near Montreal). When her husband died, Die felt forced to institutionalize her twelve-year-old son, Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), who suffers from a severe form of ADHD and is prone to violent outbursts. Now fifteen, Steve gets kicked out of the institution for setting a fire and Die is forced to take him back into her home (and home-school him) if she doesn’t want him to go to a more serious institution from which he might never emerge.
Steve quickly shows that he is too much for Die to handle, but Die’s new neighbour, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a teacher on sabbatical, steps in to help. For a while, the three of them find a way to cope.
Mommy is a raw, haunting roller-coaster ride of intense emotional scenes, requiring (and getting) amazing performances from the three actors mentioned. The unique relationships between the three characters are explored in considerable depth and with great sensitivity. All three people seem to be desperately lonely and thus eager to find some form of community, even if the lines between fun, humour, joy, despair and terror can be crossed in an instant.
The cinematography and score are excellent and Dolan offers a creative use of aspect ratio, using 1:1 for most of the film. This provides a unique focus to the intense scenes. Mommy is certainly a great Canadian film, but I felt it was too long (138 minutes) for this kind of story. A solid ***+. My mug is up. Be prepared for very frequent bad language.