Wednesday, February 24, 2010
Writer/director: Xavier Dolan
Cast: Xavier Dolan, Anne Dorval
Gay coming-of-age drama, 96 minutes
In Toronto theatres now, J’ai tué ma mere (I Killed My Mother) returns to Montreal Thursday for the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois. It is indeed an impressive debut film by Montrealer Xavier Dolan.
Dolan took Cannes by storm last year, winning three awards: the Art Cinema Award (C.I.C.A.E.), Prix Regards Jeune and the SACD (Societe des auteurs et compositeurs dramatiques) Prize at the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar. It went on to win two awards at the Lumiere Awards in France, and numerous awards in Festivals as far-flung as Bangkok, Reykjavik and Zabreb. It was also named to Canada’s Top Ten by the Toronto International Film Festival, and was Canada’s submission to the Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Film Category. It received 5 Jutra Award nominations, 4 for Dolan himself.
All of this praise is mostly justified. It is quite a strong first feature by a precocious filmmaker, at only 20 years of age. He not only wrote and directed the film, but produced it and starred in it as well. Could he really be the next Orson Welles? Is J’ai tué ma mere another Citizen Kane?
Well, no. As remarkable an accomplishment as this film is, it is not a masterpiece. Rather, it is a portent of greater things to come. He does many things and does them well. The movie works as a good first-person coming-of-age story. It’s gay-themed, but has some crossover appeal. But it clearly is a young person’s first film.
His acting is good, since he has acted since the age of 4. But the writing meanders and doesn’t convey enough of a journey for him. He has a lot of anger for his mother, but his constant shrieking at her actually makes her the more sympathetic character. As for the directing, he is overly fond of high camera placement and wide-angle two-shots, thus creating a distance and detachment from the character(s). His interior scenes are all too dark and murky. He also frames the actors in the middle or lower half of the screen, creating unnecessary and excessive headroom. I know his coiffure is voluminous, but there’s a whole lot of nothing else up there.
But a lot of this can be chalked up to inexperience or limited budget ($800,000, of which $150,000 was his own money). To his credit, he seems to be well-aware of this. He recently spoke about not being nominated for an Academy Award in the Foreign Language Film category along with films like Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon) and Un Prophète (A Prophet) and said, “come on. One day, maybe, I can go there, but not yet. I’ve had this whole youth Cinderella enthusiasm working for me. I think my first movie is a good movie and I love it despite its clumsiness and flaws and everything, but I don’t know that I belong with those films.”
He is just about finished his next project, the $1.6 million feature Heartbreaker, and then moves onto his next project Laurence Anyways, about a man undergoing a sex change. A co-production with France, it’ll have an even larger budget at $6.5 million. I expect that these films will demonstrate increasingly greater skill and accomplishment gained from the lessons of J’ai tué ma mere. He’s definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on.