J’ai tué ma mère (I Killed My Mother)
With his first feature, Montrealer Xavier Dolan delivers what is already one of the most talked-about directorial debuts of 2009. In a triple-threat feat, Dolan, who was 19 years old when he wrote the film, also directs and stars in J’ai tué ma mère, the semi-autobiographical tale of a young gay man coming of age and struggling with a tortured relationship with his mother. The film was a dizzying sensation at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival (where it won three awards), and played to critical and popular success at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.
Dolan plays Hubert, a cool and composed teenager who sports a Tears for Fears throwback hairdo. He bickers with Mom (Anne Dorval) constantly about anything and everything, from the trivial to the profound. He’s repulsed by her style – the plastic on the furniture, her repeated trips to the tanning salon. Not only is she disagreeable and unsupportive, but she’s also a kitsch monster. Their arguments are alternately hilarious and horrifying, reflecting the profound pain both mother and son suffer. When asked at school to write about what his mother does, Hubert can’t imagine even acknowledging he has one – so he says his mother is dead, burying her in at least one part of his imagination.
The fights escalate until Mom hatches a toxic plan: Hubert will be shipped off to boarding school. He is aghast but has little choice, as Mom has managed to convince her ex-husband that a change of scenery is in the lad’s best interests. Being banished to a mother-free zone might have seemed a good option for Hubert, but the move simply leads to an ultimate standoff between them. Dolan and Dorval navigate their way through the harried, increasingly vicious tête-à-têtes with delicacy, evoking sympathy for both characters.
Dolan’s enthusiasm for cinema can be felt throughout. Combining assured writing, a confident directorial style (the scene where Hubert makes love to his boyfriend is a standout) and a beautifully rendered performance, Dolan’s arrival on the big screen is an achievement that can’t be ignored.