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Already one of the world’s most celebrated filmmakers at the age of 25, Xavier Dolan has wowed the art house crowds with a stunning, if short, body of work, which includes his boisterous debut, “I Killed My Mother,” his eerie noir “Tom at the Farm” and his sweeping trans epic “Laurence Anyways.” Now the Quebecois director returns with “Mommy,” an aching portrait of a tumultuous bond between mother and son, and a film that presents Dolan at his most emotionally unbridled.

An auteur with a masterful knack for giving plum roles to ace actresses, Dolan casts Anne Dorval as Diane, a single mother whose son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is both her greatest love and her biggest burden. There are unmistakable Freudian elements to the plot of “Mommy,” but Dolan isn’t interested in merely dealing with obvious themes. Shot in amber hues and alternately confining and freeing aspect ratios, this is a movie about the nuances of obligation, liberation, imprisonment and loss.

A wild card of erratic and often violent behavior, Steve prompts Diane to enlist the aid of her neighbor Kyla (the grand Suzanne Clément), a stranger who becomes Steve’s tutor and co-caretaker — and, more importantly, Diane’s only friend. Folding in his characteristic tapestry of formal exactitude, Dolan makes a tiny teacup carry the weight of a woman’s inadequacies,and a dance to a French-language Celine Dion track feel like a moment out of time.

Known for his penchant for over-indulgence, Dolan may have done well to have shaved some time off this 139-minute drama, and a futuristic element regarding juvenile detention does feel a bit alien in this otherwise earthbound story. But it is hard to complain when a director of such vast, precocious talents seems to ooze precise, accessible and (seemingly) effortless high art. Via the stunning Dorval, he opens his empathetic heart where he used to navel-gaze occasionally, and his masterstroke is making the union between Diane and Kyla perhaps feel more crucial than that between Diane and Steve. However profound, it’s a daring move to make, and yet Dolan’s viewers should expect nothing less.


Three-and-a-half reels out of four
Now playng at the Ritz at the Bourse

Recommended Rental

Force Majeure

Available Tuesday

Like “Mommy,” Sweden’s “Force Majeure” was a Cannes Film fest triumph, using a lean plot to navigate the flaws of a man and the drive for survival. What happens when an approaching avalanche causes a husband and father to save himself instead of his loved ones? The entire movie looks for answers and sees more than an avalanche cascade downhill. 

Contact the South Philly Review at editor@southphillyreview.com.


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