aGLIFF 2010 (Austin Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival)
By Don Simpson | September 11, 2010
Director: Xavier Dolan
Writer(s): Xavier Dolan
Starring: Anne Dorval, Xavier Dolan, François Arnaud, Suzanne Clément
The 20-year-old Canadian writer-director-producer Xavier Dolan stars as Hubert, a stunningly beautiful 16-year-old floppy-haired hipster who detests his mother — Chantale (Anne Dorval) — with unbridled fervor. Who could blame him? A flaming caricature of an uncool mom, not only is Chantale a sloppy eater, but she frequents tanning salons and possesses an atrocious sense of style (she adores animal prints). And it is not just her outer self; Chantale’s behavior is erratic and she has a horrible tendency to go back on promises (Hubert repeatedly accuses her of having Alzheimer’s).
Essentially, neither of them fulfills the other’s ideal. Chantale revolts and infuriates Hubert to his bones, and vice versa. Unable to communicate civilly, each conversation erupts into volcanic arguments in which the mother and son exchange equally menacing blows of unedited hatred and disdain. Hubert comes off as a whiny, superficial and pretentious brat on more occasions than not; Chantale comes off as emotionally unstable, even manic.
One of the many clever narrative tactics of I Killed My Mother is Dolan’s humanization of Hubert’s idyllic parent in Helene (Patricia Tulasne), the mother of Hubert’s boyfriend, Antonin (François Arnaud). Helene exemplifies liberalism and freedom; she grants Antonin ample freedom as well. Helene appreciates fine art and has a refined eye for style — she even enlists Hubert and Antonin to drip-paint the walls of her office in the style of Jackson Pollock (Chantale, on the other hand, does not even know who the hell Jackson Pollock is).
Purportedly based loosely on Dolan’s own upbringing, I Killed My Mother seems brutally honest, especially in terms of the dialogue and performances. I Killed My Mother is, at its core, about the way people use words as weapons; it is also about not being able to choose your family. The words spewing out from Chantale and Hubert’s mouths are unplanned and unpredictable. The dialogue is by no means manicured or over-written, it is unfiltered as if streaming directly from the subconscious to the realm of the audible.
I did not have as tumultuous of arguments with my own mother, but I can definitely understand from personal experiences where this story came from. Several of my high school friends had “cool” mothers, while I had — at least what I perceived to be — the nagging mother. But now, when I look back upon my arguments with my mother, I see my floppy-haired teenage self as a whiny, superficial and pretentious brat not all that dissimilar to Hubert.
I Killed My Mother premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Fest (in the Directors’ Fortnight series) where it earned three prizes: the Art Cinema Award, the Regards Jeunes and the SACD Prize. Armed with his auteurist visual aesthetic (akin to Jean-Luc Godard [circa 1960-64], François Truffaut [circa 1959-1962], and Wong Kar-Wai) and penchant for high-brow literary references (Cocteau, de Maupassant, de Laclos, and Rimbaud) it is not surprising that Cannes fell so in love with Dolan. It is also not surprising that many critics are using Dolan’s very prominent (read: unrealistic) directorial eye as a strike against him since it functions in such stark contrast to the naturalism of the script. I, for one, enjoy the dichotomy — in fact, that is what I find most enjoyable about I Killed My Mother.