Xavier Dolan is one talented chap. In only five years, he has released as many films – and at the time of writing, is still only twenty-five. But for all the critical bluster that has surrounded his previous work, it’s with Mommy that he finally earns the label of ‘prodigy’.
Mommy concerns Die (Anne Dorval), a single mother who has just regained custody of her son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) when he’s released from juvenile detention. There’s a slice of sci-fi dystopia to proceedings, as the movie is set in a fictional French-Canada where the only real difference is a new bill that allows parents to incarcerate their children in designated ‘care’ centres, without due process of law. Reintegrating Steve into society, and her own damaged life, is harder than she thought; thankfully, soft-spoken neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément) comes into their lives, and the three embark on a personal journey that will come to define them.
Mommy is shot in 1:1, which means the screen is a post-stamp square, giving it the feel of being shot on home video. The effect is marvellous, as we get extremely close to these extraordinary characters, so close we can almost taste their breath; but Dolan keeps going one step further. Every frame is infused with an enviable life and energy, and for the course of its breezy two-and-a-half hours, it forges a world that could be straight from the playbook of Almodóvar, punky in execution but remarkably tender in its many moments of breathless reconciliation. Its formal experimentation never misses a beat, Dolan masterfully cueing his pop tracks to bring unexpectedly moving cadences to scenes; there is even one sequence in particular that will leave you pinned to your seat with your heart in your mouth, gaping at Mommy’s mastery of the medium. But it’s the performances that matter most: it’s unlikely that Dorval, Clément or Pilon will see any Oscars, but the way they get to the harsh truths lying at the heart of this unique family is stunning.
Mommy will be – and should be – Dolan’s calling card from now on. Entirely unique in its design but wholly universal in its themes, this is breathtaking, brutal cinema – and like its characters, your life could be changed over the course of its runtime.