Film Debut: Xavier Dolan (I Killed My Mother, 2009)

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Canadian Director Xavier Dolan started writing his first film at the early age of 17. Cinematographically literate through his father who works in the industry, the teenager began his career as a filmmaker two years later with the bold statement: I Killed My Mother. Admittedly semi-autobiographic, the film works as a real exorcism of teenage hatred, whilst embodying the blooming of Dolan’s cinematographic poetry.

Hubert Minel is a 17-year-old who doesn’t like his mother. From the crumbs that are left on the corners of her mouth when she eats, to her kitsch style of both dressing and decorating, Chantal Lemming inspires nothing but contempt and disgust to her son: the two of them just don’t know how to live together. The film juggles from shouting scenes, to sequences of emotional manipulation, the whole sprinkled with misunderstandings and lack of empathy for one another. It is not that Hubert and Chantal have communication issues, it is that they don’t communicate – at all. The two characters regularly trap themselves into monologues, transforming dialogue sequences into dithyrambic soliloquies.

As it is the case for every single one of his films – and there have been five in the last five years – I Killed My Mother is about impossible loves; but rather than focusing on romantic relationships, Dolan questions the supposedly unconditional love that should be given to the person who brought you to life. He systematically investigates Hubert’s feelings throughout the film, stripping nude any of his emotions. Hubert Minel talks to the camera, interrupting the film on three occasions, rhythmically organizing the narration. For those who have seen Heartbeats, these sequences are aesthetically carbon copies to the ones in his second film. The characters are locked into black and white frames, forced to express what they feel, rarely staring directly through the camera, as if they were admitting their guilt to an old friend.

The title I Killed My Mother is ambiguous in itself. The film is scattered with maternal death references, wether it is in the aesthetics or in the narration. Hubert refuses to mention Chantal in a school survey, pretending she is dead; he also regularly mentally pictures his mother on her death bed. But the most striking references lies in the dialogues. When sent to boarding school, Hubert burst out in rage, and starts another argument on the car park, shouting out lout to his ignoble mother “What would you do if I’d die today?” The film pauses for a moment on Chantal whilst she looks at her son leaving. Then, she answers in a heartbreaking voice “I would die tomorrow.”

I Killed my MotherAs the film goes, the symbolic of killing one’s mother actually embodies the natural act of growing up. Throughout childhood, the adults in charge of an infant are his only models. Chantal, as a single mother, was Hubert’s only friend, and he admittedly confesses that he used to tell her every single thing happening in his life. Now a young adult, he refuses her supremacy and is in search for new role models. His boyfriend’s mother seems way cooler and yet the film refuses to give her the beautiful role of ideal mother. Rather, Hubert turns himself towards his French teacher, with whom he shares a deep love for authors and classical literature, directly embodying Dolan’s love for renown artistic figures.

This love is directly translated into the medium of the film itself. Dolan never misses to open his films with an epigraph. Hubert’s wall is covered with portraits of authors such as French poet Charles Baudelaire or Irish writer Oscar Wilde. In general, Dolan’s characters can be seen as dandies looking for themselves, trying to find answers about their emotion in the arts.

Dolan’s film debut was nominated nine times in film festival, and rewarded four, including Canne’s Quinzaine des Réalisateurs prize “Regard Jeune”. His latest film Mommy, whose release in the UK unfortunately hasn’t been announced yet, won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes festival, ex-aequo with Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language. Xavier Dolan’s career is flourishing and it is only to wish that his style keeps strengthening in the coming years, as there is no doubts he is one of our most promising director in the current cinematographic scene.

I Killed My Mother (2009), directed by Xavier Dolan, is distributed on DVD in the UK by Network Releasing, Certificate 15.

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Ex-Film Editor and future ex-MA student, dissecting films since 2006.

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