By Zach Martin
“Mommy,” the Cannes award-winning project from French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan, does not sound like anyone’s idea of a good film. Just the mention of its Instagram-esque square-aspect-ratio may be met with scorn and cynicism from viewers who think they are above such gimmicks. But “Mommy” reels you in with just how alive and human it feels.
The film tells the story of Diane (Anne Dorval), a widow who faces difficulties in raising her volatile and unstable son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon). When a new neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clement) arrives, she starts to assist in housework and controlling Steve. From there it follows the ups and downs that the family goes through to make ends meet and takes the viewer on an emotional roller-coaster. The film deals in extremes often cycling through scenes of intense nail-biting violence, joyous excitement and heart-breaking setbacks. Thankfully, Anne Dorval delivers a layered powerhouse performance that grabs the audience’s empathy and turns the story of an individual struggle with a problematic child into a universal one. Dolan, too, directs with an admirable confidence and energy. Their combined forces create monumental emotional payoffs particularly in an awe-inspiring daydream sequence late in the runtime that makes Diane’s shattered expectations for her life even more devastating.
Xavier Dolan’s style is one of maximalism and a seeming allergy to subtlety or nuance. However, this is not inherently a bad thing, in fact it is oddly refreshing. It is easy to dismiss his bombastic flourishes as indulgent and bordering on self-parody, but the emotional resonance that Dolan is able to achieve through them is incredibly impressive. It takes a talented director to be able to pull off a montage sequence set to the entirety of “Wonderwall” by Oasis and not only that but make it into one of the most purely exhilarating sequences on film in recent memory.
The aforementioned square format that the film is presented in is the aesthetic choice that sets it apart. It is never off-putting and contributes to the beautiful imagery that is showcased throughout. It is not clear at first why the choice in aspect ratio was made, but the moment when Dolan reveals his reasoning is so breathtaking that it’s been reported audiences at Cannes erupted in ecstatic applause.
Dolan has his poppy tendencies — a soundtrack that includes Sarah Maclachlan, Counting Crows, and Simple Plan proves this — that may be rejected by some, but he has made a momentous film that demands to be taken seriously. With huge emotions and striking imagery, “Mommy” makes for a profound and rewarding experience.
Zach Martin is a staff writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.