Mommy marks the fifth film from writer director Xavier Dolan, no mean feat for a man still only 26. Something of a festival darling Dolan is a filmmaker who does not do compromises, his style and vision are never anything but precise and to the point. It’s safe to assume you are unlikely to see this young filmmaker turning his hand to superheroes any time soon. So does Mommy need a little nurturing or is Dolan already fully-matured?
Diane (Anne Dorval) is a widow struggling to deal with her often-violent son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) who has recently been ejected from a juvenile facility. Once back home the pair at first revel in each other’s company before descending into bouts of anger and often aggression. With Diane struggling to cope she finds help in the form of her quiet neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément) who seems to have the ability to not calm Steve but understand him in ways perhaps even he can’t.
Despite the rage, the anger, the foul language and general chaos of Mommy there is something hauntingly mesmerising about it. Diane and Steve are clearly cut from the same cloth; shouting profanities at each other, coming to blows when their words finally fail them. Kyla is the quiet in their storm, a calming influence but, like her new friends, she too seems to be hiding a trauma beneath her stutter and perfect appearance.
From the outset you are going to find Mommy hard to like. Dolan wants to alienate you from this world and these characters before, almost without realising it, seducing you round to their most inner turmoil’s. The film is shot in a narrow 1:1 aspect ratio, about as wide as if you were to watch a film vertically on your iPhone. In doing so there is a sense of constraint to the film, these characters are trapped in their own personal prisons, unable to escape. And yet escape they do thanks to Dolan’s genuinely masterful direction. The film is peppered with poetic, perfectly chosen songs that lift the film from being melodrama to something altogether more substantial. One sequence in particular, played out to the tones of Oasis’ Wonderwall, literally sees Steve break free of the shackles of Dolan’s oppressive shooting style. In this moment alone you appreciate just what an important filmmaker Dolan already is. Like his characters he’s challenging the conventional to blistering affect.
Teeming beneath every scene is a sense of something bigger lurking in the background, a suspicion that Dolan is intentionally only giving us half the story. The result is powerful, a film that never feels the need to explain every tick and action a character commits to but rather have you gradually beginning to understand them in ways only Kyla can to begin with. At well over two-hours there is the feeling that it is too long, especially given the intimate nature of the story it is telling, but allowing Dolan a little extra running time allows him to flex his natural talent for character development.
As Diane Dorval is stunning, a kind of middle-aged version of Megan Fox complete with tattoos and streaked hair. Her performance is injected with a sense of pride that is never anything less than admirable even when her anger does begin to rise to the surface. Pilon’s performance is an often repulsive barrel of hostility but when Steve’s insecurities and innocent side comes into play it is amazing how effortless Pilon makes the transition look. A scene between him and Clément early on highlights the damaged nature of both characters through little else other than a series of looks. Clément meanwhile is glorious as Kyla, a forced smile often painted on her face there is so much going on in her portrayal it will leave you haunted as to the true nature of the character.
A brutal, blistering and bludgeoning film that ebbs and flows in to bouts of hypnotic tranquility, this Mommy is fiercely protective.