In the space of five years and five films, Xavier Dolan has become the biggest overnight success story on the festival circuit in recent memory. That his latest film is in Competition this year at Cannes is an astonishing enough achievement; that he has seen his work slotted in alongside the likes of Mike Leigh, Jean-Luc Godard and David Cronenberg is almost unbelievable, given that the director only turned 25 in May. And yet Mommy is no mere sop to appease the naysayers who think the main selection needs some fresh blood every now and then: Dolan’s film is vibrant and playful, yet comes with a depth that seems far beyond his years.
Dolan’s films often star himself, which hasn’t really helped the rumours of a rampant ego, but Mommy, although it shares a similar story line to his 2009 debut I Killed My Mother, puts the spotlight on the incredible Anne Dorval. Occupying a space somewhere between Carmen Maura and Marisa Tomei, Dorval plays Diane “Die” Després, a Quebec widow who, at the beginning of the film, collects her son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) from a care home. Steve is a dropout and a delinquent, it seems, but soon we learn that he suffers from an extreme case of ADHD, which poses greater and greater and problems for Diane.
Though Pilon, irritating at first, finally wins us over, it is the long-suffering Diane who commands the film, aided by some extraordinary dialogue from the obviously not-so-green Dolan. The director literally keeps his focus small – the bulk of the film is shot in 1:1 ratio – before bursting into widescreen when shy neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément) gains Steve’s trust and becomes a third musketeer.
At more than two hours, it's a touch too long, but Dolan has crafted a powerful story that makes great use of colour and sound, bursting with unexpected needle-drops such as Oasis, Céline Dion and Dido. It may be premature to reserve Dolan a place in the pantheon of great male directors of women – Fassbinder and Almodóvar spring to mind – but Dolan shouldn’t be denied such praise because of his age. Mommy shook the cobwebs off this year’s Competition, an unexpected dark horse that may well take the Palme d’Or this weekend.