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I Killed My Mother

A bright high schooler rages against his single mom in thesper Xavier Dolan's amusing but undisciplined directorial debut.

With: Anne Dorval, Xavier Dolan, Suzanne Clement, Francois Arnaud, Patricia Tulasne, Niels Schneider, Monique Spaziani.

A bright high schooler rages against his single mom in thesper Xavier Dolan’s amusing but undisciplined directorial debut, “I Killed My Mother.” Pages of ink will be spilled on the multihyphenate helmer’s youth (he’s 20) and precocity, and there’s much to praise, especially the oh-so-real dialogue, but true psychological penetration is lacking and Dolan’s hunger to prove his talent results in a superfluity of styles. Still, multigenerational auds worldwide will likely find kinship with the many funny/painful situations, and pic is a genuine crowdpleaser. Fests will come knocking, and even Stateside arthouse isn’t unthinkable.

Sixteen-year-old Hubert (Dolan) lives with his mom Chantale (Anne Dorval) in a nondescript Montreal suburb. Everything Chantale does annoys him: the way she eats, the way she dresses, the way she only half-listens to what he says. His tenuous hold on a filial-maternal relationship results in frequent explosions of the “I hate you” kind, while Chantale generally keeps quiet until Hubert’s crescendos demand a response.

It doesn’t help that Hubert keeps silent about his personal life, including that he’s gay and has a boyfriend in classmate Antonin Rimbaud (Francois Arnaud) — Chantale finds out by chance when Antonin’s hip mother Helene (Patricia Tulasne) sympathetically kvells. The one adult Hubert bonds with is teacher Julie (Suzanne Clement, appropriately warm and sympathetic), but then Chantale sends Hubert to a weekday boarding school when she can no longer handle his outbursts.

As scripter, Dolan gives only fitful respect to Chantale’s character, making her largely a caricature of a lower-middle-class single mom. Despite the title, and despite even what the helmer himself may think, this mother may not be the perfect parent, but she’s hardly a disaster. This is much more about an articulate, typically self-centered teen’s angst than a child raving against a genuinely bad mother.

There’s good stuff here, and if Dolan continues as a helmer, he’ll probably look back in 10 years and groan at some of the obvious novice elements, including the Antonin Artaud/Arthur Rimbaud “homage.” Occasional inserts of fantasy sequences, and an apparent gay-bashing, don’t jibe with the overall tone, and a sequence with Hubert and Antonin painting his mother’s office feels as though it’s in a different film (unsurprisingly, it’s the one scene Dolan edited himself).

As thesp, Dolan certainly inhabits the role, though the incessant screaming can be a bit much; a hyped-up rant when he’s on speed is both hilarious and a fine example of his ability to let loose with everything he’s got. Like all teens, especially those who think they’re self-aware, Hubert can be maddening and limited in his ability to analyze situations, but presumably that’s part of the role.

Art direction is meant to mock Chantale’s poor taste, which adds to the chuckles but reduces her further to a stereotype. Lensing using the RED-One digital cinema camera, with a transfer to 35mm, stays cool and unpretentious, with black-and-white confessional inserts that give Hubert a more direct, personal mode of confession. Music is nicely interpolated, and matter-of-fact gay elements shouldn’t relegate pic to the gay-fest ghetto.

An update was made to this article on May 19, 2009.

I Killed My Mother


Production: A K-Films Amerique release of a Mifilifilms production. (International sales: Rezo Films, Paris.) Produced by Xavier Dolan. Directed, written by Xavier Dolan.

Crew: Camera (color/B&W, DV-to-35mm), Stephanie Weber-Biron; editor, Helene Girard; music, Nicholas Savard-L'Herbier; production designer, Anette Belley; art director, Dolan; costume designer, Nicole Pelletier; sound (Dolby Digital), Sylvain Brassard; line producer, Carole Mondello; associate producer, Daniel Morin. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 18, 2009. Running time: 96 MIN.

With: With: Anne Dorval, Xavier Dolan, Suzanne Clement, Francois Arnaud, Patricia Tulasne, Niels Schneider, Monique Spaziani.

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