Dolan’s Rive-Sud, in Paris: A Review of MOMMY (Dolan, 2014)

Fig. 1. Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) stretches the aspect ration from 1:1 to 1.85:1.
Fig. 1. Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) stretches the aspect ratio from 1:1 to 1.85:1.

On the walk home from a screening of Mommy, I chatted with two parisiens–a man and a woman, both my age–who adored it. They’d never seen an Xavier Dolan movie before, which just goes to show you what winning an award at Cannes does for a career. When I told the woman that I came from a suburb right next to St-Hubert, she asked: is everyone so isolated there? My reply: I have no trouble imagining that a move from Laval to St-Hubert would do that to just about anybody. (She didn’t get it. Few would.)

This is without doubt Dolan’s best work. As many have said, it’s a variation on the theme(s) of J’ai tué ma mère (Dolan, 2009) (which is also currently playing in Paris), but it’s a vast improvement over his debut feature. Perhaps it’s because he’s not in it. Dolan wouldn’t have worked in Mommy; the boy needed something else to him. We needed to believe that he would really lose himself in those moments of “liberté,” one of which featured an extraordinary visual choice: a move from a 1:1 (yes, I said 1:1 aspect ratio, which dominates in the film) to 1.85:1 (fig.1). (With choices like this, I feel the urge to call Dolan a very Truffaudian filmmaker. In Les 400 coups (1959), Truffaut’s style at times mimics the innocent joy of his characters.) In any case, Dolan’s face would have been too angst-ridden for such abrupt shifts in tone–too pained to make these scenes feel like genuinely touching (because innocent) moments of release.

All this to say that Antoine-Olivier Pilon’s range–his credibility in all that was demanded of him in this role–is rare.

Seeing Mommy in Paris–at the MK2 theater right across from the Centre Pompidou–is the best thing I could’ve done. The movie–amazingly– made me see something I’d lost a sense of: the charm of Montreal’s South Shore–in those wide roads (which, yes, you ought to walk right down the middle of), those empty department store parking lots, those semi-detached homes, those crass idioms, and that who-gives-a-shit-and-get-outta-my-face that will always make the Rive-Sud feel like home.