October 10th, 2016: mymoviecollection.blog is born. Many reviews are published at once in an attempt to have some content to offer in a still quite rough website. The very first X-Men, which would eventually turn into a series of reviews. Zootopia, which has won the Oscar for best animated film recently. Magical Girl, one of the most interesting films made in Spain in recent years. But while writing all that, I’m constantly thinking about one movie. A film that took me by surprise and made me fall in love with its characters. “Hm, I still don’t trust my writing skills enough to write about it”, I say to myself, “maybe when I have the knack”. Almost six months later, here we are.
This is Mommy.
The summer breeze gently flows in a garden. Diane grabs an apple from a tree. She breathes in, then out. From these first few shots, one thing is clear: this is going to be a breath-taking movie in terms of cinematography. The screen is a perfect square, a rather unusual aspect ratio in film-making, but used with great care to create beautiful imagery. Every single frame is crafted masterfully to evoke how characters feel, and they all look pretty enough as a picture from a professional photographer. One frame at a time, the hipster nature of its director, the young Xavier Dolan, is evident on-screen. Instagram must have inspired him, I guess.
Relaxing views are soon gone, though. Diane receives a quite unsettling call: his son Steve has burnt the cafeteria in the psychiatric institution he was kept in, so she has to take him home. There is another option, though, as a new Canadian law enables parents to commit troubled youth to public hospitals. Refusing to do that, the mother will go to great lengths to have a normal life and, with the help of Kyla, their neighbor, will try to educate her son. Mommy is a brilliant character piece, the writing behind each of them is stunning. They are very deep, their motivations are always clear, and empathizing with them is inevitable. The relationship between Steve and his mom is incredible, too. He is not able to express his emotions properly, that being the main source of his problems: every feeling he has is ten times as strong as any other’s, so he easily gets into trouble when arguing with people, and the same thing happens with his mother. They fight all the time, but there’s nothing stronger than the love the boy feels for his mother. He may fail to prove it at times, but there is no doubt of how much he loves her.
These two aspects, the cinematography and the way the characters feel blend together in an amazing way. Playing with the aspect ratio of film is not something new, it has often been used to convey the time period in which events happen, for example (The Great Budapest Hotel did this amazingly). But in Mommy, Dolan uses the shape of the picture to make viewers aware of how Diane feels. It would be a spoiler to unveil exact events, but there are a couple of points in the story in which the image is expanded to fill the screen, and the meaning behind that is obvious yet touching. Many said that it was a cheesy effect, but I found it fascinating, it made me feel exactly what the director intended: freedom and comfort, anxiety and claustrophobia.
There aren’t enough words in the English dictionary to properly describe how perfect the acting job here is. Anne Dorval portrays Diane with just the right amount of nuances to make it a believable but not exaggerated character. The mother may be considered white trash by some, but she is proud of doing whatever necessary to have an honest living. She does have lots of issues, but finds strength where there apparently is nothing to be found in order to continue walking forward. She is a fighting single mother, trying to make all the correct decisions even if that means being borderline with the socially accepted. Dorval tells all of this with just her gaze. It is truly amazing. Antoine Olivier, who plays Steve, does an outstanding job too. He struggles to keep his feelings under control constantly, yet never falls under the rebel-kid stereotype. His performance is very solid, which makes the character interesting, and watching him evolve over the course of the runtime is a joy. I had my doubts with Suzanne Clément at first, as her character seemed to be the most simple of them all and her acting looked just okay, but after a very specific plot-point, everything made sense: Kyla is not a simple person, but someone who is constantly haunted by her past, and the actress did a terrific job at creating a mysterious woman. All three of them perform absolutely perfectly.
Dolan directs the whole show with mastery. Every shot is just right, everything from composition to the choice between tripod or handheld cameras is on spot. Each image breathes life, and he manages to create lots and lots of powerful moments. What is shown and what left out of frame is meticulously decided, too, to keep it fresh and interesting at all times. It is the most emotionally intense film I’ve ever watched too, I feel my eyes tear up every time I watch it. And taking into account the vast majority of the dialogue is in French, a language I have no idea of beyond “Bonjour”, that’s remarkable. Speaking of dialogue, the script for this movie is one of the finest I’ve ever seen. Every word seems to have been carefully picked, and each sentence sounds sharp and witty. It is phenomenal. The only problem I have with it is the very first seconds of the movie, as there are a few lines of text explaining how the new law I mentioned before works. This isn’t a problem on its own, but knowing how good the rest of the writing is, I believe it could have been told in a more compelling way.
Emotional moments are further improved with the soundtrack. It may sound like the choices were bad ideas due to how famous they are, though… I mean, Wonderwall? Born to Die? Those are there just because they’re popular! Right? Well, actually, there’s more to it than that. It’s amusing how beautifully each song fits into the moment it can be heard. It seems the film was written around the soundtrack instead of the soundtrack being picked for the movie. As a matter of fact, the inspiration for Mommy came when Dolan was listening to the most wonderful piece of music I’ve ever listened to: Ludovico Einaudi’s magnificent Experience. He imagined a whole scene just for that song, and then wrote the rest of the story around it. And man does it show. That scene is spectacular.
This is probably my favourite motion picture of all time. I will never stop recommending this film to every living person on Earth. It may look like it’s not your cup of tea because of the unusual aspect ratio or because of how soapish the plot may sound, but trust me and give it a try. It is a riveting experience, full of emotional and powerful stories about three of the best written and acted characters in recent years. Life may have its own plans, it may take us in directions we didn’t expect. We may have to make sacrifices for those we care about. Maybe we’ll be ready to see others sacrifice for us, maybe we won’t. Life will have its ups and downs, but they say the journey is what matters. And as long as we have someone to love and to be loved by, that journey will indeed be worth the effort.
“We still love each other, right?”
“That’s what we’re best at, buddy”