Thursday, February 05, 2015

"Mommy": Xavier Dolan, young director from Quebec, experiments with aspect ratios to make a social point

Xavier Dolan, the French Canadian director now in his mid 20s, has followed up on an earlier film (reviewed here April 28, 2014, with a punch, frantic film “Mommy”.
This film starts with a statement about how Canadian law allows parents to commit teens to mental institutions without consent.

The 15-year old teen Steven O’Connor Despres, played by the blond Antoine-Olivier Pilon, is flled with talent, charisma, and frantic energy, probably for dance and acting, but is energy bubbles into hyperactivity and gets him into trouble.  Widowed mommy Diane Despres (Anne Dorval) has had to take him back from a reform school after the kid set a kitchen fire that caused another kid to become disfigured (never shown).  So she has to take care of him and bond again. Neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clement) tries to help.

The film (like “The Grand Budapest Hotel”) manipulates the screen aspect ratio as part of the artistic effect.  Most of the time, the screen is simply a square 1:1, giving us a narrow, constricted view of life for someone with mental illness.  (That is even narrower than the old 4:3 before “1.85” became standard. )  The film expands out to about 2:1 twice, when Steve gets a sense of expansion.  Once is when he is skateboarding.  That continues until Mommy is served with a lawsuit regarding the other boy’s injuries in the kitchen fire.  The second time occurs when Steve thinks he is going on a camping vacation, leading to some nice scenery of the St. Lawrence River, when she is actually taking him to a more restrictive hospital and re-committing him. The screen closes again.

The official site is here. (Roadside Attractions and Entertainment One).  The film is shot around Montreal, in some suburbs (Chambly), and in the countryside (along the St. Lawrence), and is in French.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of St. Lawrence near Quebec City, by Joel Truchon, Creative Commons Share Alike license 3.0, unported, GNU.  I last visited the area in August 1993.  Second picture is from my own mother’s estate, from her own trip to Quebec in 1940s after marriage. Third picture is mine, near Chesapeake Bay, MD. 

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