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CANNES: How Xavier Dolan’s ‘Mommy’ Became the Buzziest Movie at the Festival

The powerful drama is considered the frontrunner for the Palme d'Or

This year’s Cannes Film Festival unloaded its share of turkeys, from “Grace of Monaco” to Atom Egoyan’s “The Captive,” David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars” and the Ryan Gosling directorial debut “Lost River.”

But at least the festival ended on a dazzling high note. On Thursday night, Cannes premiered “Mommy,” directed by 25-year-old Quebecois director (and former child actor) Xavier Dolan, a drama about a mother and son that has quickly become the talk of the Croisette.

At a Thursday afternoon showing, the crowd spontaneously erupted in applause during one of the film’s sequences, and exploded into actual chants of “bravo!” at its closing credits. The critics are just as enthusiastic (read Variety‘s rave from Peter Debruge here), mentioning Dolan in the same breath as Godard or Almodovar. The word on the street is that “Mommy” is the frontrunner to land the coveted Palme d’Or.

Dolan takes what could have been a conventional family saga and infuses it with a stunning command for story telling and cinematography (the film is shot in 1:1 aspect ratio). He draws tour de force performances from his actors, especially the film’s lead Anne Dorval. Her title character springs her 15-year-old son (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) from an institution for problem children and tries to homeschool him, with the help of a neighbor (Suzanne Clement).

Although “Mommy” is a gut-wrenching drama, it also has moments of levity, backed by a ’90s pop soundtrack that features Dido, Oasis and Counting Crows, and even a sly reference to “Home Alone.” This is Dolan’s fifth film (after “I Killed My Mother” and “Heartbeats”), but it’s already poised to change his career as the big discovery out of Cannes.

Popular on Variety

“I loved it,” said Jess Weixler, who said she cried twice during the movie.

“How incredible!” cheered Jessica Chastain at Thursday night’s amfAR charity dinner. “I just got goosebumps thinking about it. I’m really excited about that filmmaker—I hope to work with him. Whenever I see an actor, a director or a writer do something innovative and change the rules, it gives me a little adrenaline push.”

Like everybody else at Cannes, Chastain said just as knocked out by Dolan’s age. “I feel like I work hard, but what was I doing when I was 25?” she asked. “I was going to school!”

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