I have something of an unfortunate habit of having rather unrealistic expectations of films that receive praise from everywhere. As my consumption of cinema ever increases as though it's some form of mental meal, as do my opinions of expectations of their respective creators. So, near the end of 2014 and into 2015, I became aware of a new filmmaker as I myself was new to the film blogging community, that filmmakers name is Xavier Dolan. He had been active for the past 5 years or so already with acclaimed films with subjects ranging from bigoted families, impossible love triangles, a trans-gender epic, and a Hitchcock inspired thriller about abusive relationships. So when his 5th feature "Mommy" began making the rounds, needless to say, I was intrigued.
I took over a year to see it since a proper home video of the film doesn't seem to be the easiest thing to find. As mentioned above, my expectations were extremely high since I spent most of that year letting the rave reviews it had gotten soak in. Upon seeing it, was it the best film I had ever seen? No. (Ingmar Bergman's "Cries and Whispers" still holds that title) but that's fine. It doesn't have to be, and after seeing it twice more, it still isn't, but it doesn't have to be, I'm only one person in an enormous sea of people, what do I matter?
The film does, however, have some of the best uses of cinema as a dramatic art form I can say I've ever seen.
The story revolves about Diana "Die" DuPres, a middle aged widow living in near poverty. She is forced to take care of her teenage son Steve, who has recently been expelled from a care facility for special needs youths after causing it massive damage and injuring a student. Diana cares deeply for Steve, who goes into almost psychotic fits of rage when put under great emotional distress. Diane has trouble coping, until her neighbor Kyla becomes involved in both her and Steve's lives. Kyla is a former teacher now on medical leave for unexplained reasons, and also suffers from an apparently nervous stutter. She becomes an outlet for both Diane and Steve, for Diane as a friend and confidant, and for Steve as a teacher. The three form an off sort of family unit, Kyla seeming neglecting the daughter and husband she already has.
Eventually, Die receives papers stating she's being sued by the parents of the injured student. After seeking out a lawyer, who is driven away by Steve who beeves he's interested in his mother for sex,Diane attempts to have Steve commuted again, taking him to the hospital under the guise of taking him and Kyla on a road-trip. Diane immediately regrets the decision, but by then, the damage is done. Things fall even farther when Kyla reveals she and her family are moving to Toronto, leaving Die completely alone. The story ends with Steve attempting to make an escape from the hospital he was incarcerated at, the screen cutting to black before we see what happens as Lana Del Ray plays over.
The layers of complexity involved in the characters conveyed from their looks and actions rather then through straight dialogue is astounding. Firstly there's Diane's behavior which is at times almost as immature as Steve's. Her style of wardrobe and makeup are both far to young for a woman of her age. Mix that with her odd quarks like dotting I's with hearts and the pride she displays when hearing Steve curse out the guards on the radio at the beginning, and you have quite the leading lady. Kyla is also a bit of a mystery, we;re never told why she stutters or is on leave, but I have to wonder. She doesn't community with her own family well at all, to the point they're almost a complete non-entity in her life, and the scene in which she ferociously threatens Steve made me think, did she attack a student and that's why she's on leave? Either way, she becomes a sort of secondary mother figure Steve as well as a mentor.
Another thing this film both exemplifies and rewrites is the craft of film-making itself. Not is the editing, particularly the use of slow motion and depth of field superb, but so is (for me) the real star of this show, the cinematography. The film is shot in the virtually unheard of aspect ratio of 1:1, which gives off a feeling of intense claustrophobia as well as telling of the character's emotional states. There is also some extremely clever trickery involved in the use of this style of shooting that must be seen to be believed, and for that, I give you easily the film's best scene:
And so there you have it ladies and gentlemen. One of 2014's finest films and pieces of art in general is a masterwork from one of the medium's newest and so far finest artists. It truly is an experience that must be seen to be believed, and I hope that you'll all be able to see it very soon!