Film #292: Mommy (2014)

director: Xavier Dolan
language: French
length: 138 minutes
watched on: 15 May 2017

I last watched a Xavier Dolan movie about two years ago, I Killed My Mother. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Dolan has a lot of mommy issues, and is putting those into his work. (Also, the mother in both movies is the same actress, which I didn’t realize.) And those who know me well might know why I perhaps am intrigued by those themes…

As for this movie, I tried to watch it on DVD – I rented it along with Sing Street and a few other movies, but I forgot that there wouldn’t be English subtitles (not for the first time, I might add – I tried to rent an Almodóvar film a while back). Normally, I’d just attempt to muddle my way through the movie, but the second or third line of dialogue is one character asking the main character if she even speaks French, to which she replies that it may not be proper hoity-toity French but it’s still French. And if the other characters in the story can’t understand her, then I’d have no hope. At that point I gave up and just resolved to stream it later with English subtitles, and finally got around to that in May.

The movie is about Die, a single mother, and her son Steve, who has a violent form of ADHD. Parts of the story is contingent on a fictional future government of Canada, that puts into place a law allowing families of young offenders to bypass the due course of justice and put them straight into institutions. At the beginning, she chooses to take her son out of hospital to avoid him having to go to jail instead. Then the movie follows their struggle to get along with each other, and introduces a shy woman with a stammer from across the street who bonds with them and starts tutoring Steve.

Visually, the film is unique in that it uses a 1:1 aspect ratio, reminiscent of Instagram pictures, and creating a claustrophobic atmosphere. The cinematography is also really nice, and the camera likes to linger on contemplative images – characters bored or listening to music, or of nature.

Perhaps it’s a spoiler, but when the mood lifts around the halfway point and everyone is feeling elated, the boy pushes the frame out with his hands and it fills the screen in the anamorphic widescreen ratio. It does this again later – but both times it subtly pushes back in when the mood dampens again.

The soundtrack is nothing but throwbacks – like they’ve looked into my pre-teen listening history and chosen some select tracks. They use Wonderwall, and then it’s the first time I’ve heard Dido, or that song Blue Da Ba Dee in many years. These parts of the movie are also very colourful, and I enjoyed them a lot.

Anyway, where I Killed My Mother was all about a boy trying to escape from the grasp of his evil mother, this one is much more Oedipal. Steve doesn’t know where to draw the line, getting jealous and lashing out when his mother flirts with another man, and tries to kiss her and tell her he’ll take care of her instead, precipitating the more catastrophic events towards the end of the movie. In contrast to Dolan’s earlier movie, it’s told from the mother’s perspective.

And while Steve is nominally the one with violent outbursts and mental health problems, Die is not much better – she is alcoholic, and a lot of the movie is the two of them shouting and swearing at each other. Like mother like son.

It’s quite a slow movie overall, and the ending is a bit of a downer, but I definitely enjoyed it, and liked a lot of the imagery. I can definitely see a lot of myself and my family relationships in both characters, too. Fortunately minus the violence and constant swearing.