Winning the Jury Prize at Cannes is no small feat, especially at 25 years old. Xavier Dolan, a promising force in the film industry, seems to only be picking up speed with each film that he produces. Mommy, which won the most recent award at the French Riviera film festival, is Dolan's fifth film, and his third work shown at Cannes. If you follow French pop music, you may recognize his work (and a lead character from Mommy) in the music video for Indochine's "College Boy."
Warning: the video contains some graphic and disturbing images.
In the process of shooting the music video, Dolan stated that he prefers using a 1:1 ratio for a more intimate, portrait-like feel to film. This artistic approach seems to have carried over into the making of Mommy, which was also shot on 35mm film.
A native of Quebec, Dolan regularly wears many hats in his productions—he serves as the director, producer, and editor of Mommy. There is some discussion about the effectiveness of directors playing several roles in the production of a film; some believe that a director can become too attached to their work and thus be a less effective editor or actor, but Dolan claims, "you just do it. It's not complicated. I love it. I sit down on the chair to do the scene, and then I get up, ask for the playback. And if it's bad it's bad. If it's good it's good. I won't hesitate a second if it's bad" (IMDB).
And it is evident that Dolan's films are products that have been carefully revised and re-revised, as Mommy was nothing short of a beautiful, raw, and seriously poignant work of art. The film follows Steve (Antioine Olivier-Pilon) and his widowed mother Diane, nicknamed Die (Anne Dorval), as they struggle to find footing as a family in their environment, despite Steve's frequent and very violent outbursts. Dolan effectively gets inside of Steve and Diane's heads as they are tormented by their own emotional burdens, and in doing so, he chronicles their ever-fluctuating relationship that is so clearly grounded in genuine affection. Diane and Steve are such real characters, rich in their flaws and complexities; while repulsive to each other at times, they are connected by a strong love that the film deeply honors in its telling of their family story. The audience can't help but fall in love with the three protagonists—Diane, Steve, and their neighbor, Kyla (Suzanne Clément)—especially in the small moments when they gather to take a selfie or dance in the kitchen to Céline Dion. The film is full of these subtle, poignant instances of regular life, of finding some beauty and hope in the everyday; it becomes easy to see why it received such high acclaim.
In this visually and emotionally beautiful film, Dolan investigates the theme of the boundaries of love, of pain, of what it means to be a family. As Steve says at one point in the film, "I'm a good kid, you know." Though a deeply layered and troubled protagonist, his love for his Mommy is irrefutable and the force that keeps the film alive.