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Fest embraces Canada’s ‘Mommy’ Dolan’s film draws tears and cheers

CANNES, France, May 22, (AFP): Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan, 25, joined the race for the Cannes top prize Thursday with “Mommy”, a drama about a troubled teen and his force-of-nature mother that drew tears and cheers. “Mommy” is Dolan’s fifth film and marks his fourth time on the French Riviera festival’s red carpet since his 2009 debut “I Killed My Mother”. He is — by more than a decade — the youngest director in competition for this year’s Palme d’Or award on Saturday, and early buzz after a screening indicated he had a solid shot at winning it. The picture stars Anne Dorval, who also had the lead role in “I Killed My Mother”, as larger-than-life widowed mother Diane struggling with her bipolar son Steve’s violent temper. Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) and Diane have an affectionate, profanity-peppered rapport that makes them sworn outsiders who delight in shocking the people they encounter with their broad Quebecois dialect.
Resplendent in tight rhinestone-studded jeans and perilous high heels, Diane is a spitfire who trades on her enduring good looks and ripe sexuality to get through tough spots.

But one day when Steve attacks his mother after she accuses him of stealing a “Mommy” necklace he gave her, their mysterious neighbour Kyla across the street overhears their fight and comes to the rescue.
While Steve and Diane are mourning the man of the house, Kyla has a stutter that began when she suffered a debilitating loss of her own. The three strike up a complex friendship in which Kyla becomes a kind of miracle-worker, tutoring Steve while coping with his fits as Diane tries to earn a living doing translation work and cleaning houses. But Steve soon slips off the rails again, leaving Diane with a crushing choice of how to save him and protect herself. Dolan told AFP that of his films, he was proudest of “Mommy”.

“It talks about people who love each other deeply but that love is tested by life itself, by illness and by a system that ostracises them,” he said. The director-actor-editor-costume designer said that although he had other films in the pipeline including an English-language feature, he was ready for a break. “I plan to go back to university to study art history and German,” he said. Dolan later told a press conference that the mother-son theme was “fertile ground that inspires me” but played down his age as a factor in his choice of material. “There’s no proper age to start telling stories,” he said. “I feel neither young nor old I just feel like I’m trying to do the right thing in order to tell a story that haunts me somehow.”

Asked about potentially becoming second youngest winner in Cannes history after Louis Malle, he said “it would just be an extraordinary message to the people my age and to my generation and seen as, I guess, hope. My movie, I’d like to think, is about hope.” Stephanie Belpeche of French newspaper “Le Journal du Dimanche” tweeted after a rapturously received screening: “I think I just saw the Palme d’Or” while Donald Clark of the Irish Times said it was “officially my favourite competition film of #cannes2014”. Ryan Lattanzio of US movie website Indiewire called the fresh-faced Dolan “almost insufferably talented”.

The film revives Dolan’s frequent themes of maternal angst and teen alienation “but cranks up the intensity with a terrific calibration of first-rate performances and emotional engagement,” he wrote. “It’s an uproariously emotional movie, to all appearances painfully personal and featuring performances which are almost operatic in scale,” Peter Bradshaw wrote in the British daily Guardian.

“Dolan’s energy and attack is thrilling; his movie is often brilliant and very funny in ways which smash through the barriers marked Incorrect and Inappropriate.” The Hollywood Reporter said the picture “feels like a strong step forward, striking his most considered balance yet between style and substance, drama-queen posturing and real heartfelt depth”. “This could be his “Blue Is The Warmest Color” moment,” its reviewer Stephen Dalton added, referring to last year’s Palme d’Or winner.


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