Friday, January 30, 2015
The film's protagonist is an often violent and unstable but also charming and naughty 15-year-old Steve Després (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), who might be every parent's nightmare. His attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) makes him unpredictable and difficult to control. That doesn't discourage his widowed eccentric mother Diane "Die" Després (Anne Dorval) to take him back home from a juvenile care facility after he set fire in the cafeteria. Although the chain-smoking, alcoholic, fiery Die is tough and determined to take on the challenge of taking care of Steve, she is facing an uphill battle. Her being broke and jobless doesn't help either.
Luckily, a kind neighbor Kyla (Suzanne Clément) with a speech impediment walks into the chaos between the mother and son and gradually opens up to them. The trio form a bond that brings them joy and hope. However, like Steve's temperament, things are not always predictable and hardly go as they have hoped.
Xavier Dolan's semi-autobiographical directorial debut "I Killed My Mother" (2009) is also about the rocky relationship between a misunderstood mother and son. But he is hardly repeating himself in this film. He is a filmmaker who is often fierce and unconventional, just like many characters he created in his films. He constantly reinvents himself and gives his audience refreshing surprises, even not necessarily always pleasant—I didn't care about "Laurence Anyways" (2012).
Throughout the film, the image is blocked into a 1:1 square on the screen, which forces us to focus on whatever is left in the frame. It serves as a metaphor that what Die and everyone else in the film can see. They are cornered into a limited cluster and can hardly deal with anything else. They are completely overwhelmed, and so are the viewers. There are only two brief moments in the film when the frame opens up widely. One is when Steve is gliding on the street as free as he can ever be under a blue sky. The other is when Die is daydreaming about a possible bright future for Steve. But sadly, they both live shortly and we are confined right back into the small square. As one of his signatures, Xavier Dolan's unapologetic usage of loud songs and music in this film is both effective and unforgettable.
The performances by the three main characters are both powerful and poignant. They all constantly face difficult decisions they would rather avoid. Certainly Die and Steve love each other, but love is simply not enough for living in reality. As for Kyla, it's even more complicated.
When you can't handle someone you love, what can you do to keep your hope alive? Xavier Dolan unflinchingly shows you just that in this film.