We’re a third of the way through 2015 (already!), and there have already been some fantastic films. Oscar season brought most of them out of the woodwork, as per usual, and we’ve got the Abrams and the Spielbergs and the Marvels and the Bonds to look forward to. This will be a good year for film, there’s no doubt about that. But a few days ago, I spent just over two hours watching what is quite possibly the best film released in the UK this year.
That film is Mommy.
Making its way to these shores from Canada, the French-language film is an astonishingly raw look at the lives and intertwined relationships of three people. Diana (Dorval) still hasn’t quite recovered from her husband’s death, and the poverty he’s left her in, when her ADHD-suffering son Steve (Pilon) moves back in. At times positively charming; at others, a terrifying menace, the young teenager is uncontrollable. In to this toxic relationship comes their neighbour Kyla (Clement), a former teacher with confidence issues of her own. The three form a bizarre bond, but one that enriches each of their lives.
The first thing that jumps out at you is the screen ratio – in technical terms, its 1:1 but, in layman’s terms, the screen is literally a small square box. It’s very claustrophobic, adding to the discomfort and tension permeating through the movie. Mommy is a film that delivers scenes of emotional brutality, and brings you right into that brutality with uneasily close shots of character’s faces packed within that small box. But sprinkled between these periods of discomfort are moments of sheer beauty, where the world (literally!) opens up for the characters. A myriad of emotions come flying at you, abruptly and without warning – one minute, I couldn’t stop myself smiling, the next I wanted to look away from the screen.
And the reason why I had such an intense response to the action was because of the performances. The three leads were utterly sensational. Not having a great knowledge of the actors made it easier to believe in the characters – it truly felt like I was walking in and out of the lives of real people with real problems. Credit should definitely go Xavier Dolan for penning such a realistic script, and his cast pay him back by giving equally realistic and raw performances. Pilon is electric as the hellraising son; Steve is as beautiful as he is tragic, unable to function in a world that will never accept him. He is the heart of the film – I smiled for him, I cried for him – and that is down to the fearlessness with which Pilon tackles the role. Clement, meanwhile, displays the mind of the film. As the psychologically scarred but grounded Kyla, she makes sure the other characters don’t descend into chaos (except for one shocking and frightening scene).
But the soul of the movie, and the MVP of the movie, is Anne Dorval. Her portrayal of Diana is one of the best performances this year, hands down. Juggling a violent son, lack of funds, loneliness, and her own pride has almost destroyed her, and we see all of that burden in every expression and dialogue. You could argue that she too probably suffers from a milder form of ADHD, such is her ability to change moods, though that’s never explored. All we know is that this is a woman who is just surviving by the skin of her teeth. It’s an exceptional character, and an exceptional performance.
The only thing that stops Mommy from being perfect is it’s soundtrack. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy the soundtrack, there were a lot of songs that I know and love. But they were far too obvious for a film that revelled in not being so. Want an ambiguous love song? Put on some ‘Wonderwall’! Angst? Lana Del Ray! This definitely could have been better.
But really, that is such a minor flaw in a film that I would argue has no others. I came out of the cinema feeling emotionally drained by the experience and now, almost five days later, it’s still on my mind. It’s one of the most visceral experiences I’ve had at the cinema for a long time, and I urge EVERYONE to go and see it. You won’t be disappointed.