Tuesday, September 7, 2010

"I Killed My Mother (J'ai Tué Ma Mère)" by Xavier Dolan

 (photo taken from the website:  http://www.eyeweekly.com/article/70749)

This French-Canadian film received quite a bit of accolades at the Cannes Film Festival, but I honestly have mixed feelings about it.  I nearly turned it off right from the start but then I decided to keep on watching since I was still in the middle of my repast — and I'm glad I kept on watching because it got better after the exposition.

The parts that irked me the most were the shouting matches between Hubert (played by director Xavier Dolan) and his mother, usually instigated over seemingly inane and miniscule trivialities.  I couldn't help empathizing with his mother; however, I tried to remind myself that the protagonist is playing a teenager (only 16 years of age) in the midst of tumultuous hormonal upheavals — in addition to harboring his sexual orientation from his dear old mum.  Later on, you can see that the Hubert's mother isn't a saint either and is also prone to explosive anger.  This feud continues on and off throughout the movie, countervailed with scenes of sweet tête à tête with his homosexual lover, Antonin, lending an overall bittersweet, melancholic mood to the movie.

The movie's saving graces are certain scenes of sheer cinematographic beauty coupled with an ethereal soundtrack.  Here's an example:

I also loved the scene where Antonin and Hubert decorate Antonin's mother's office with a Jackson Pollack-inspired "dripping" technique; this painting process then devolves into lovemaking.  I thought the slow-motion shots of the paint being splattered and overlaid set to French-Canadian music were beautiful.

I also really liked the ending, which takes place at a bucolic cottage in the countryside.  There isn't a concrete resolution to the plot but it still lends a satisfactory denouement and conclusion to an otherwise raucous exposition and rising action.

Also while the movie is technically gay-themed, the romantic relationship plays second fiddle to the main relationship between Hubert and his mother.  (So heterosexual viewers can rest assured that this isn't another clichéd, gay-themed movie that just continues the Brokeback model of two repressed male lovers seeking to express their unrequited love.) The love scenes are kept subdued and tasteful and manage to keep the movie light amidst all of the teenage angst.  Antonin's liberal family provides a perfect antithetical juxtaposition to the tense situation at Hubert's home.  The movie also touches on the social bias in society against single-mothers raising kids and if this might explain the dysfunctionality of the familial relationship.  I think one rather amusing scene answers this query quite clearly, where the mother thoroughly wrings out the boarding school's chauvinistic headmaster.

The movie is said to be semi-autobiographical and while the homosexual element is not shoved in the audience's face, it's clearly a crucial part of the film.  The writer/director/actor, Xavier Dolan, talks about his orientation in an interview. (He also refers to the scene in the movie — where Hubert is beat up at boarding school for being gay — as being based in reality.):


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  3. Hey Kyle, watched the movie last night. It was an interesting movie, although the arguments were more comical to me than annoying, and there were little flashes of recognition throughout, when your parents' presence seems to be oppressing you in the dark realm of teenage angst. The film wasn't helped by the crappy subtitle file I downloaded which garbled some of the dialogue, thankfully my flatmate was on hand to retranslate.

    It was like you said, very visually interesting at points, and it didn't hurt that most of the characters weren't too hard on the eye.

    It seemed to have the same lack of cohesion as a few films I've seen lately, like "Fish Tank" and "The King" but it was pleasant and funny to watch, though it got a bit unnerving at times. Quite funny lines at some points.

  4. Yeah, I liked it because it didn't seem to have a lot of pretense. It seemed like watching a reel about someone you knew. Seeing life played out. I also liked the relationship dynamics between the characters, especially between Hubert and the teacher (and how he inspired her to quit her job and go traveling/biking).

    I know what you mean! The (unofficial) translation was terrible. I unfortunately did not have a French-speaking roommate on hand but I managed with context and body language. (There isn't any official translation of the transcript yet because it hasn't been marketed to English-speaking countries as of yet).

    I think the lack of cohesion is unfortunately present in many indie films since they usually don't edit out content nearly as much as big budget films. They tend to leave in all sorts of unnecessary footage, which can be good or bad. Most conventional films leave that in the special features or extras section of the DVD...