Thursday, February 5, 2015

2015 Top Ten List #1 Mommy

MOMMY           A                
Canada  (139 mi)  2014  d:  Xavier Dolan         Official site

Hey, I wanna crawl out of my skin
Apologize for all my sins
All the things I should have said to you
Hey, I can’t make it go away
Over and over in my brain again
All the things I should have said to you

Counting stars wishing I was okay
Crashing down was my biggest mistake
I never ever ever meant to hurt you
I only did what I had to
Counting stars again

Hey, I’ll take this day by day by day
Under the covers I’m okay I guess
Life’s too short and i feel small

Counting stars again

Once again, 25-year old Xavier Dolan remains one of the most relevant directors working today, assailing a whole host of social issues as he’s written his most explosive drama yet.  Certainly among his most ambitious efforts, even with what may arguably be a few unnecessary moments of melodramatic overkill, but Dolan continues to make some of the finest films being made today, pushing the barriers of dramatic acceptability, where this won the 3rd place Jury Prize at Cannes, shared with Jean-Luc Godard’s GOODBYE TO LANDUAGE 3D (2014), interestingly and perhaps appropriately the oldest and youngest directors in competition, both offering radically differing views on what the future holds.  Written, directed, edited, produced, and costume design by Dolan, perhaps the most haunting aspect about the film is how it compellingly lingers through several different possible outcomes, one a rival to that brilliant and unparalleled ending to Spike Lee’s 25th HOUR (2002), where a lead character goes through a scintillating stream-of-conscious montage (where the screen actually widens) imagining a future that might have been (where her son morphs into an uncredited male model Steven Chevrin), before the dust clears and the gripping power of the present retains its suffocating hold on reality. Certainly one of the unique aspects is the film is presented in a highly unusual 1:1 aspect ratio, a perfect box, more reflective of still photography than cinema, creating a claustrophobic and highly congested box as the center of activity, with both edges of the screen unused, where the characters are continually moving in and out of each other’s cramped physical space, where Dolan’s challenge is creating a choreography of colliding images that match the highly volatile emotional world that is often spinning out of control.  As always, Dolan’s actors shine, perhaps more showcased here than any of his earlier efforts, especially fifteen year old Steve Després (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) in one of the more ferocious performances of recent memory, an often violent and out-of-control kid with a severe case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in combination with Intermittent explosive disorder (IED), much of it spent institutionalized, aggravated by the death of his father, spending the last three years in a juvenile residential treatment facility.  Similar to Destin Cretton’s unsparing look at damaged teenage youth in Short Term 12 (2013), Dolan’s focus hones in on the teenager’s point of view, bringing the audience front and center into the daily turmoil of his existence, where it’s extremely rare for a film to feature such a socially isolated and combative teenager without a friend in the world, locked up behind bars, kept out of school, so completely dependent upon adult authority, eventually kicked out of the only kind of institutionalized setting he knows, inexplicably leaving him to fend for himself at home with his equally unrestrained mother, Diane, Anne Dorval, who gives another scorching performance, once having played Dolan’s mother in his highly acclaimed first film I Killed My Mother (J’ai Tué Ma Mère) (2009).     

The opening sequence adds a bit of science fiction allure, setting the film in the very near future when a new Canadian law makes it legal for parents to institutionalize their children for any sort of behavioral issue.  This is like a warning shot across the bow, addressing the unanswered ramifications of a lax society that simply doesn’t want to have to deal with aberrant social behavior, preferring to hide their problems behind the walls of prisons or psychiatric institutions.  Due to increasing pressure for schools and principals to measure success through statistical measurement, many of these borderline kids are being pushed out, where the schools don’t want them.  Nearly half (approximately 47 percent) of the youth in juvenile detention have a diagnosis of ADHD, where 32% of students living with ADHD drop out of high school, while 50% are suspended.  A recent series of articles investigating the harsh and often violent conditions of juvenile residential treatment facilities was written by The Chicago Tribune, Harsh Treatment - Chicago Tribune, revealing a common response to disruptive behavior is for attendants to administer “emergency” doses of powerful psychotropic drugs, with some facilities administering much higher doses than others, suggesting rules and procedures that are not uniform where we’re still at an early stage in understanding the societal impact. The article suggests there are some facilities where these kids come out more violent than when they went in, where the ADHD kids are at higher risk for incarceration, school failure, substance abuse and suicide.  Dolan’s alarmist view of adolescent institutionalization is reminiscent to the highly experimental electric shock treatments received in the 40’s by adult actress Frances Farmer (Jessica Lange) in FRANCES (1982), the involuntary lobotomy forced upon Jack Nicholson as McMurphy in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975), and Kubrick’s futuristic horror film A Clockwork Orange (1971), where it’s the government implementing a highly experimental brainwashing technique, supposedly eradicating the condition of societal violence through Pavlovian behavior conditioning, all films that depict a brash sense of fiercely defiant independence stuck in the hands of overcontrolling institutions that are designed to tame the wild and exuberant instincts out of humanity through psychotropic, sedative-like medications, making patients more manageable in an institutional setting. 

Diane Després (Dorval) has been widowed for three years, where her husband’s sudden death led to increasingly unmanageable behavior from her son Steve, causing her to send him to a residential treatment facility, but he’s been accused of setting fire to the cafeteria, where another young boy was seriously burned.  While the facility recommends sending him to a more restrictive juvenile detention center, Diane refuses to comply, believing his behavior would only grow worse under a harsher, prison-like environment and instead decides to bring him home.  This blisteringly intense drama is fueled by Pilon’s powerhouse performance (which can’t even be imagined in an era prior to Brando or James Dean), enhanced by what are arguably the two strongest female roles Dolan has ever written, where Dorval is an extension of her role in Dolan’s first film, but perhaps more confident and self-assured, where she has a sexual swagger about her, where she’s as audaciously aggressive and bold as her son, both hurling profane-laden invectives at one another in the dysfunctional family manner of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), yet she’s also able to reel back the intensity when he grows overly violent, where her calmness is often due to sheer fright.  It’s during one of these overly combative episodes that she hides behind a locked door waiting for him to calm down, when suddenly it grows quiet on the other side of the door.  When she comes out, she’s surprised to find her son’s bleeding wounds being attended to by the neighbor’s wife across the street, Kyla (Suzanne Clément, equally superb), a shy and mousy figure with a noticeable stutter, a former high school teacher on a sabbatical, living quietly with her husband and young daughter, where her hesitant speech is reflective of an interior catastrophe that has left her emotionally traumatized, where her hypersensitivity is a perfect counter to Diana’s unhesitating brazenness.  Somehow the three click, where they bring out of each other a more perfect balance, where the sheer vitality of Steve’s manic energy seems to fill them all with a needed surge of uninhibited inner release.  Dolan expresses these cathartic moments with beautifully choreographed musical selections, including a 3-way dance to Céline Dion - On ne change pas - YouTube (3:45), becoming a ballet of interconnecting emotional spontaneity that literally captivates the viewer with spectacular cinematic force, like explosions of irrepressible joy that come out of nowhere and just as quickly dissipate into something else altogether.     

The indefinable and continuously shifting mental state of Steve is in a constant state of flux, unpredictable from moment to moment, yet what is undeniable is the unconstrained brashness of his emerging masculinity, where he has no sexual outlet, so his flirtatious manner is inappropriately expressed with his mother and Kyla, often crossing the line, but it’s also clear they both absolutely adore this kid and want the best for him, where love exists in a minefield of unanticipated accidents and even further setbacks, where he can frighten the hell out of them, sending them into a distressed panic, followed by moments of unsurpassed joy and exhilaration.  The audacity of the film, with its slo-mo shots, operatic use of 90’s music, and the sheer range of emotions, the tragedy, the hope and heartbreak, the shattering experiences that comprise the narrative storyline, where despite the bombastic melodrama that is like adrenaline racing through the veins, there are also more subtle, nuanced clues that exist in a quiet reverie of their own, fleeting images that have the capacity to affect the viewer, like Steve riding his skateboard wearing headphones as we hear Counting Crows “Colorblind,” Mommy Movie CLIP - Colorblind (2015) - Xavier Dolan Movie HD YouTube (1:25), where the music exudes a distinct feeling of alienated disconnection in this depiction of living in a world all his own, or a more euphoric sequence set to Oasis - Wonderwall - Official Video - YouTube (4:40) that opens with Steve literally opening the frame with his hands to widescreen, where he skateboards through the streets alongside Diane and Kyla on their bikes in a rush of momentary elation, or a dim, unlit moment standing in the middle of the road when Steve tries to pour out his heart to Kyla while she’s being called inside to dinner, both existing as if in another dimension, pulled from different directions, or a photograph in Kyla’s bedroom of herself and her son, who is never mentioned or referred to, but who is obviously the source of insurmountable loss in her life.  Defined by her selflessness and vulnerability, Kyla is the near-mute reincarnation of Giuletta Masina’s Chaplinesque Gelsomina in LA STRADA (1954), who bares her soul each and every day, somehow finding herself back at ground zero in another human catastrophe, where by putting out the fires they are only postponing the inevitable, as Steve is literally an accident waiting to explode—it’s only a matter of time.  A passion play of volatile emotions and combustible energy, the futuristic implications extending to society-at-large pervade throughout the entire film, casting a lengthening shadow over the whole glorious affair, creating an underlying layer of moral incertitude that will continually plague our contemporary existence.  The allure of Dolan’s film is the free-spirited message of tolerance and openness, where nothing is hid in the closet to fester and grow ugly, as political incorrectness exists throughout this film, as if intentionally placed, where human flaws are exposed as the bread and butter of life, as everyone is not dealt an even hand, but you live with what you’ve got.  This confounding and often messy affair is a throwback to the Cassavetes view of art, a modernistic and completely ahead-of-it’s-time credo that thrives on the beauty of individual expression, where dealing creatively with the complexities of life’s problems is accompanied by a liberating feeling of giddy exhilaration.  The torch has been passed. 

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