What to say, when the heavy breathless sobs invade your heart as you’re going through some sort of heavily required catharsis for the human beings you are experiencing the lives of? I guess this is what cinema is all about.
Being a film person, I certainly suffer from the knowledge of the films I see. Cases like La vie D’Adèle, where I can quite frankly screw up the whole film experience, or even Boyhood and many other films, where I know exactly what I’m seeing and what to expect. That’s why when I have a film that completely surprises me feels so great and wins me over. But then I have Mommy, where I knew was I was expecting and the expectations were high, coming from the incredible Cannes success; when I know the artist so well, feeling so compelled by his films. ‘Xavier Dolan? Now that’s living cinema at its fullest.’ I said something like this before watching Mommy. I certainly wouldn’t disappoint the person I was expressing this, even more, Xavier Dolan didn’t disappointed me, as he filled me with life for a couple of hours. This is the film I was waiting for, not just from Dolan and not just the expectations, but in general, this is the film I want to see every year, this is my kind of film. And Xavier Dolan was able to surpass all of that.
Mommy is the kind of film it takes an incredible effort from us to come back to our own reality.
Music has become a huge part of my year. This Christmas, I decided to make a mix tape for my sister, so I’ve been going through the songs we used to listen as we were growing up. Music can become a huge part of our memory source. I may not remember events, but I remember listening these songs. So I’ve been going through songs such as The Verve’s Better Sweet Symphony, Garbage’s Stupid Girls, Oasis’ Wonderwall or recently the awesome debut albums by Florence and The Machine or Lana Del Rey. It is pretty incredible and sweet how sometimes things fall in this nearly perfectly balanced moment. From the very beginning of Mommy, as Dido’s White Flag played, it seemed as if it was meant to be for me to watch the film the moment I saw it.
Mommy is a rollercoaster of strong emotions, but so much of it is in the lyrics of the songs he smartly chooses to play. Mommy starts out with a written explanation about a Canada’s legislation on mental health in the near future. Then you have this serene moment of this woman, before you are hit, or literally so, she is hit by a car while driving to someplace. Diane Després is introduced to us in all her glamour and unwarranted straightforwardness and wit. She discusses with a supervisor of the institution her son is in and ends up taking him home. So Diane and Steve come home while Dido’s White Flag plays in the background. If you go on and carefully listen the lyrics of this song, it pretty much resumes the entire film and it could as well be the representation of their relationship.
Diane and Steve have to quickly adjust to their new life, together again, alone in their household. It’s not easy for them, but Diane just keeps fighting and not taking any moment to get depressed or anything of the sort, no matter how actually difficult this must be for her, how hard it is for her to deal with emotional conflicts towards her son, who can be as unpredictable and as difficult. As Steve and Diane furiously and quite freely argue, whether at the house, or even inside a taxi cab, you can’t help but remember Dolan’s first film J’ai tue ma mère. Sorry Dolan, but these two fighting inside the car immediately takes me back. Indeed, Dolan brings back the mother son relationship to its center.
The songs go from a freer moment of both anger and bliss, as Steve rides his skateboard accompanied by Counting Crows’ Colorblind to others. Out of a severe moment when Steve comes so close to hurt her mother out of pure uncontrolled anger, their front neighbor comes in the scene. She calms down Steve, somehow. Diane decides to invite her for dinner. Kyla suffers from a severe stutter; she always been shy, she explains, but since a year ago it got worse, so we know she’s taking a sabbatical year from teaching (as Susanne was in Dolan’s first film)… Kyla doesn’t talk much, but it is not because she stutters, it is clearly because of something else we don’t know about, because she decides not to say it. So then comes Celine Dion’s On En Change Pas and Diane and Steve that make Kyla sing along. Another musical moment whish basically represents the entrance of Kyla into Diane and Steve’s life.
She starts homeschooling Steve, as Diane tries to find a job. Eiffel 65’s Blue starts playing while Kyla teaches Steve. This music is frantic and it is exactly where Steve’s mind probably is a lot of the times, another musical moment that fits perfectly, where we have Kyla freaking out with Steve’s moods and eventually the both coming together to a mutual understanding. I used to listen this song so much when I was a kid. I have an older brother, and that’s probably where this comes from. I used to listen this song on my brother’s walkman, I think. It’s incredible, memory wise. And Xavier Dolan’s being the similar age as myself, will be doing this to me quite a lot throughout the film.
Oasis’ Wonderwall is one of the most cinematic, expressive and vivid moments of cinema this year. Oasis’ Wonderwall is a world where these three human beings co-exist in some approachable harmony and things seems to happily move forward as we can see in their smiling faces. It’s a marvelous moment, where Xavier Dolan wins our hearts so freaking easily, smart guy, using the aspect ratio as a way to tell us – here, this is the moment where they are free and breathe happily. You may want to resist the effect, but you really can’t. “Because Maybe You’re Gonna be the One that Saves Me”, Gallagher says. It is a dreamy scenario, indeed, and we are filled with hope for these human beings, especially Steve and Diane.
Mommy is irresistibly unpredictable, when at the same time we know exactly where the story will led to. Steve’s uproaring nature, eventually, will lead Diane to make a hard decision and having a huge effect on their lives. This film can be so stylish, so unpredictable, sexual and musical and it is, but it is also mature, it is also inventive and timeless. Xavier Dolan has made yet another incredibly unique and personal film, full of live.
It is all about emotion, hard emotions, strong emotions; it’s all about characters and their strong emotions, bursting out. The aspect ratio is because of that. The use of the songs is for that. Some may feel it is actually too much. The performances are over the top. The emotions are too showy and over the top. The use of Steve’s mental health is too much. Kyla, the neighbor, is another strong cliché. It may be repetitive. Etc etc etc.
You do have all of this. It may be an extreme portrait. But the thing about Xavier Dolan’s work is that he cares. We are all quite vulnerable and so is Xavier Dolan, but he is not afraid to show it on screen. When I saw Xavier Dolan debut film a few years ago, the thing that stayed with me was his strong personality, his mark. When you see a film by him, you can’t help but think of all his previous work, as well as when you’re watching the films, you inevitably have specific expectations. But I don’t really care. I love them and I love Mommy. Obviously, his style is remarkable; their films have so much style is crazy. Mommy brings all of that. But stories about mothers are never ‘enough’, or told enough. He may have the cliché neighbor in Kyla, but her care is so real, Suzanne Clement’s performance is so touching. The scene at the end, the last scene between Kyla and Diane, is so heartfelt, you just want these women to hug each other and be happy. Not every filmmaker has the ability to convey such real characters, and make its audience feel so utterly connected to the story. They burst out of the screen and we want to jump inside the screen.