Packed with naked, raw emotion and an awe-inspiring intensity, Mommy is a staggering work of cathartic heartbreak from 25 year old director Xavier Dolan, making his fifth Québecois feature. Having directed and starred in I Killed My Mother aged 19, Dolan explores similar ideas of parent-child attachment but with breathtaking maturity.
Diane Després (Anne Dorval) stars as a struggling widowed mother overwhelmed by the burden of raising her volatile, ADHD ridden son, Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon). Steve has just been discharged from an adolescent care facility following an incident which left a peer with permanent facial burns. A quiet, stammering neighbour (Suzanne Clément) becomes awkwardly involved with Diane and Steve and the three create a loving, violent dysfunctionality. Pilon gives Steve an explosive energy; a terrifying titan, a delicate puppy. This dynamic is memorising, Dolan and Pilon crafting it with a perpetual chaos. It’s shot in a very unusual 1:1 ratio, a deliberately restrictive form which perfectly compliments the estrangement and tunnel vision of its characters. Without spoiling anything, there is one moment in which the film performs a breaking of the fourth wall which is truly pure cinema. It is a rare moment of absolute brilliance, unforgettable, simple yet spectacular, a moment of utter relief which completely takes your breath away, lifts you out of your seat and momentarily everything is forgotten in the elation. It is that good. It’s such an unusual moment which reminds the audience why cinema is such a special, ethereal art.
The soundtrack wraps its characters in bubble wrap, placing the likes of Oasis, Celine Dion and Dido over moments of explosive rage and ecstasy. Music and dance is used organically and powerfully. In one scene Steve spontaneously sings alone in a karaoke bar, his desperation and loneliness utterly undressed. Part of the joy of Mommy is the extent to which it lacks constrait. The emotions are so explosive and carried by an innate willpower and deep humanity developed through spectacularly nuanced performances from each of the three brilliant cast members. Even after 138 minutes, I could not bare departing from these characters, spellbound. A story so shrouded in anger, there’s so much sadness and love so gorgeously depicted. It’s a beautiful, wondrous piece, a true work of art, the purest cinema. A deserved standing ovation.
Review by David Rank
Mommy is out now in the UK. Running time 138 mins. Certificate 15 (UK).