CANNES, FRANCE—The Palme d’Or competition at the Cannes Film Festival has a major new contender: Canada’s Xavier Dolan.
The 25-year-old Montreal filmmaker’s explosive family drama Mommy premiered to raves at its press preview Wednesday night, in advance of its world premiere Thursday at Cannes.
It shares a fractious mother-son theme and a maternal character and actress with I Killed My Mother, Dolan’s 2009 feature filmmaking and Cannes debut, although comparisons soon vanish: the emotions in the former are more interior, in the latter considerably more exterior.
Mommy is the third of a record three Canadian films competing for the Palme d’Or this year, the others being David Cronenberg’s Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars, which screened to mostly critical raves, and Atom Egoyan’s kidnap drama The Captive, which was savagely panned.
The late placement for Mommy in the festival lineup may be a good omen for Dolan, since it’s often thought that the last films seen by the Palme d’Or jury have the best shot at prizes.
Mommy stars actors old and new from Dolan’s oeuvre, which now stretches to a remarkable five feature films for the actor/writer/director, just turned 25.
The title character is powerfully played by Anne Dorval, who starred opposite Dolan in I Killed My Mother, which won several awards at the 2009 Director’s Fortnight auteur showcase at Cannes.
Another character is played by Suzanne Clément, who starred in Dolan’s 2012 gender-bending romance Laurence Anyways, which won her a Best Actress award in the festival’s Un Certain Regard program.
Quebec TV star Antoine-Olivier Pilon, new to Dolan’s films, plays the third significant character in Mommy.
Dorval is Diane, a widowed single mom who has full-time custody of her tinderbox 15-year-old son Steve (Pilon), who has ADHD. Their difficult relationship changes once Kyla (Clément), a stuttering trauma survivor who lives across the street, offers to help out.
Friendship and love come easy for these three, but not serenity. The raw and ragged story bristles with hot-blooded energy, with all three actors delivering superb performances that result in a tremendous payoff.
Dolan has a mastery of the lens that would be remarkable at any age, meticulously presenting each volatile image within a square 1:1 format that makes the energy within it seem all the more intense.
If Palme president Jane Campion and her fellow panelists are looking for emotional truth on the screen, Mommy may well be their dearest choice.
SLAAYYY. I doubt it'll get the palme but I'd be happy for a director or actress prize.