Hyped beyond all measure during the Cannes Film Festival (where it was shown at the Quinzaine des réalisateurs), this first picture by Xavier Dolan, who wrote it when he was 17 and directed it when he was 19, using mostly his own money, is just that: a first film by a precocious teenager left to his own devices, for better or worse. Sure, it’s a masterpiece compared to Anne-Sophie Dutoit’s “Faded Memories”, the other movie made by a kid that made headlines this year in Quebec. But I can think of quite a few local filmmakers who made better first films in recent years (Yves Christian Fournier, Rafaël Ouellet, Maxime Giroux, etc.), only they weren’t as young so I guess it didn’t make as good a story…
Anyway, “J’ai tué ma mère” is about Hubert (Dolan), a 16 year old drama queen with a Flock of Seagulls hairdo who simply can’t stand his mother (Anne Dorval), because… Um, er… Honestly, I didn’t notice any real reason for him to be filled with so much hate towards her, not any more than any other temperamental teenager would towards his own genitor. Most damning, Hubert is such a pretentious and self-centred little brat that I actually admired his mom for enduring him!
As such, for me at least, the premise felt askew from the start. It doesn’t help that the (very thin) narrative doesn’t go much further than that. To fill out a feature length, it must resort to much repetitions and digressions. In fact, the whole third act could be cut, from when Hubert’s sent to a boarding school to the superfluous drug-taking, “dripping” and gay-bashing scenes, up to the inconsequential ending.
More or less playing himself, Dolan is convincing in the lead, but he’s upstaged by Dorval, who’s not only hilarious but also profoundly human, no matter how kitsch and vulgar her character is made out to be. In supporting parts, François Arnaud and Niels Schneider are engaging as Hubert’s boyfriends, and so’s Suzanne Clément as one of his teachers, even though her character makes absolutely no sense.
Beside Dorval, the best thing about the film is probably the cinematography, even though it sometimes calls a bit too much attention to itself, what with all the off-center close-ups, slow-motion tracking shots à la Wong Kar-Wai, B&W shots of Hubert talking to the camera, colourful fantasy cutaways… Still, you can tell that the kid has seen a lot of movies and instinctively knows how to recreate the things he likes in others’ work through his own. Plus he must get some of the credit for that great Dorval performance, which will probably win her a Jutra next year.
Xavier Dolan is definitely a promising filmmaker; in 20 years, he might just be the next Denys Arcand, who knows. But “J’ai tué ma mère” remains too uneven to be entirely satisfying, as far as I’m concerned.
Posted on June 12, 2009January 3, 2014Author KevinCategories Movie Reviews