We should be able to kill ourselves in our heads and then be reborn
Year Released : 2009
Director : Xavier Dolan
Cast : Xavier Dolan, Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clément and François Arnaud
In my last post I reviewed the French language film “Tom à la ferme” and at the end of that I said that I had decided to take a bit of an interest in the films of Xavier Dolan, the writer, director and star of the aforementioned. Following on from that I watched one of Dolan’s earlier films, “J’ai tué ma mère” (I Killed My Mother) and now I am firmly a fan of Dolan, who proves he isn’t a one-hit wonder as he again produces a masterpiece with his semi-autobiographical story about a teenager who struggles to deal with a very strained relationship with his mother.
“J’ai tué ma mère” is again in French and despite receiving an eight minute standing ovation following it’s debut at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, it was barely released outside of non-French speaking countries and recouped less than 10% of it’s $450,000 budget in it’s native Canada. It’s safe to say that despite it receiving such praise, and being nominated as Canada’s entry to the Best International Film category at the Academy Awards, it’s not surprising that it isn’t well known with such limited distribution to the non-French speaking parts of the world.
Dolan has truly shown his diversity as he has written two films (based on this and “Tom à la ferme”) that are so incredibly far apart in terms of tone, pacing and characters that it actually excites me as to what he will come up with the future and the first thing I wanted to do immediately after watching this film was to watch other Dolan films, which for me is what I want out of a director/writer, and one of the main reasons is that his character building it absolutely superb.
I can’t give a comparison from Hollywood as Dolan is truly unique and before I even tell you the plot, I urge you to watch this film, even if the title is misleading as he doesn’t actually kill his mother, nor does he even try and the title is based on a poem that the character writes during the film.
Hubert (Dolan) and his mother Chantale (Dorval) have an extremely strained relationship and after a relatively calm start to the film, they are soon having a full blown argument as she drives him to school. Points of arguments include what’s on the radio, running light and his reliance on her when his friends are starting to branch out into the world. She decides that she’s had enough and forces him out of the car.
Still in school, Hubert decides to vent his frustration about the situation with his mother by writing short stories, poems and recording videos about his true feelings towards her, including a piece called “J’ai tué ma mère” (I Killed My Mother) in which he explores how his mother is just another woman to him.
With almost permanent antagonism towards each other, they rarely have a civilised conversation and when they do, it isn’t long before descends into arguing. Hubert soon confides his feels with his teacher (Clément) and boyfriend Antonin (Arnaud). Hubert’s internal conflicts include admitting that whilst he would defend his mother if someone tried to harm her, he doesn’t love her like a son should love a mother and ultimately the only way for them to ever co-exist is to be separated, but can either live without the other?
So what is awesome about it?
As with “Tom à la ferme” the film feels extremely real. Whilst in Hollywood films everything feels almost plastic, you get deeply involved with the characters in “J’ai tué ma mère” as you can see both sides of the argument perfectly. Dolan is a very selfish person, which even Antonin points out to him, and can barely see past his own needs, but on the flip side Chantale does regularly promise him things (such as having friends around and allowing him to move out of the house) only to then change her mind the next time that they see each other.
It reminded me a lot of my relationship with my parents growing up, and the ultimate message of the film is true of teenage life, familiarity breeds contempt as the only times that the characters do get along in the film are those moments where they have been separated for a while, and it’s the same with me and my parents. I turned 30 recently and I think I now have a very strong relationship with my parents, whereas when I was living with them I felt a lot like how Hubert felt in the film. That’s what makes it feel real, the sense that this could have easily been your life.
One exceptional touch I thought as well, much like true life, is that when Chantale finds out that Hubert is homosexual via his boyfriend’s mother, her initial reaction is one of shock. It’s not anger or disgust like in Hollywood films, it’s again very real. It’s almost a stunned silence as she gets on with the rest of her day in an auto-pilot mode. Infact, she doesn’t even mention to her son that she knows about his sexual preference until much later in the film.
There is one scene in particular that I remember from the film with regards to the relationship between Hubert and Antonin and that comes towards the end when they are painting a room before then giving into their urges and have sex on the floor. It’s quite out of tone with the rest of the film, including being very brightly coloured due to the paint, and I thought that was exceptional as it’s one of the few times you see Hubert happy in the film, so in many ways the tone that was set of it looking like it belongs in another film was right, as Hubert is a bit miserable throughout and this is the one time we see him happy. It also doesn’t hold back and actually shows that characters having sex. I must admit that did take me a bit by surprise.
The acting in the film is superb, and whilst the arguments take centre stage in that respect, the stand out scene comes at the end when Chantale launches into the mother of all rants. She hears that Hubert has run away from a boarding school that he has been sent to and whilst wearing what is quite possibly the most hideous jumper in the history of film, she launches into a rant so passionate and well acted that I just have to write it in this review because it is so fantastic. If you think you have seen rants in a film before, think again.
So the rage begins : “That’s the damn limit, you arrogant individual. Who the fuck do you think you are? Do you teach “Mothering 101″? My manic-depressive mother spent half her life in hospital. I married a coward who left because fathering wasn’t his cup of tea. Fifteen years I’ve been waking up at 5:30 to get to work and drive through goddamn traffic so my son can get and go to school!”
The person she is talking to tries to interrupt….tries being the key word….
She continues : “SHUT THE FUCK UP! Goddman stupid-ass machos! You’re always quick to judge us as you strut around in your goddamn Bugs Bunny ties! You throw your red underwear on. Do you like pink socks, motherfucker? So don’t try to tell me that my son ran away because I’m a single mother! You all have 150 IQs and you, you, YOU auto-congratulate yourselves with your endless diplomas and when a 17 year old escapes from your establishment you dare tell me that I’m a bad mother. You persecute me with your questions and petty insinuations. You project your incompetence on me! Go fuck yourself, you son of a bitch and if I don’t find a reimbursement in my mailbox by next week I’ll come and make you cough up every last penny. HAVE I MADE MYSELF CLEAR?”
At the end of that, having witnessed the pure passion that the actress put into that rant, I almost stood up and applauded. It was just incredible.
Dolan is an incredible director/writer and I would go as far as saying that this is not one of the best films I have seen during 2014, it’s THE best film I’ve seen during 2014. As I mentioned above, the first thing that I wanted to do when this film had finished was to watch another Xavier Dolan film, and that’s what I want from a film, something keeps me wanting to go back for more.
With characters that are so beautifully and intricately written, making you love them one minute, hate them the next before going back to loving them again, it’s impossible not to find yourself being compelled to watch the screen. It is 100 minutes of excellent cinema, and the rest for that, as I’ve stated above, is that it all feels real. This could be a situation in your life and those are the ones you can truly connect with.
Whilst some may be turned off by Hubert and Antonin having sex on screen, it actually adds something to the film as, as mentioned above, it’s the first time that you see Hubert truly happy and free from pressure.