Quebecois director Xavier Dolan is not currently particularly well-known in the UK, a situation that should be rectified by the dazzling ‘Mommy’.
Until now, what fame the infant terrible of French- Candian cinema has garnered is largely down to having directed a remarkable five features by the tender age of 25.
His last film, the indier-than-thou ‘Tom on the Farm’, got some decent exposure on the festival circuit, but his latest is a quantum leap forward in both style and substance.
The story is a deceptively simple kitchen sink three-hander, with widow Diane (Anne Dorval) welcoming her unstable teenage son Steve (Olivier Pilon) home from a stint in a care facility.
It’s a chaotic home, with Diane acting more like a fellow teenager than a mother. When the constantly warring pair meet a neighbour (Suzanne Clément) who has developed a speech impediment following a mental breakdown an unlikely alliance is formed which provides all three with (perhaps misguided) hope for the future.
The trio deliver generous and emotive performances, making even the most awkward character foibles seem relatable and understandable. In another director’s hands the violent and sexually aggressive Steve would be naturally unsympathetic. Dolan manages to get across the message that these are symptoms of an illness in a subtle and moving way, while Pilon skilfully displays glimpses of the desperate human living behind the bravado.
The film is predominantly projected in a 1:1 aspect ratio, meaning that the picture is a regular square. The effect on audiences used to glorious widescreen is to echo the claustrophobia of the mental illness presented on screen.
It also allows the young director to pull off an audacious piece of cinematic trickery which makes the heart soar and the eyes moisten.
It’s the most perfect moment in a near-flawless film destined for classic status.