To coincide with the DVD release of his sophomore effort Heartbeats (2010) comes the re-issue of Xavier Dolan’s breakthrough film I Killed My Mother (2009) a deeply personal story of teen angst and the explosive relationship between a son and his overbearing mother, starring Anne Dorval, Dolan himself, François Arnaud and Suzanne Clément.
Fresh faced teenager Hubert (Dolan) is a stylish 16 year old who enjoys a cultured lifestyle but who whole heartedly regards his mother (Jenny Lumet) with contempt. From her tacky taste in animal print clothing and kitsch décor to the messy way in which she eats, there is nothing about this uncouth matriarch which doesn’t enrage him. These feelings of ill regard stem from a lifelong relationship built on manipulation and guilt and have now evolved into a constant stream of scathing arguments which constitute the basis of their domestic dynamic.
Hubert’s torn between this nurtured hatred and the inherent love a son has for his mother but finds solace in the love of his boyfriend, Antonin (Arnaud) and comfort from his teacher, Ms Clement (Julie Cloutier), that is until his absent father suggests he be shipped off to boarding school and away from the support network which has so far made his life bearable.
I Killed My Mother is an assured debut for a director so young. The film’s strongest element has to be the scenes between Dolan and Lumet, with their fierce confrontations an illuminating insight into an adolescent perspective on life and the traumas of growing up. Language is used as emotional ammunition to great effect, with each line fired off like a string of hateful bullets, with every sentence under strict orders to shot to kill.
However, despite the genuine ferocity behind these scenes there is a sense that they’re a little too semi-autobiographical, a fact only amplified with the knowledge that the script was written by Nolan when he was fifteen and the realisation soon hits that there is little to no alternative perspective to counter act this exploration of teenage turmoil.
Visually, I Killed My Mother is an aesthetic symphony of rich iconography which intersperses the gritty domestic conflict which compromises the majority of the film. However, these moments of Freudian imagery and over saturated vignettes injected to represent a sense of insecurity come across all too much like randomly inserted perfume adverts. Dolan is certainly a talented filmmaker whose ability to imitate such visionary directors as Wong Kar Wai and Jean-Luc Godard should be commended, so too should his skill for creating realist dialogue, yet, unfortunately these two genuinely accomplished facets never seem to gel, culminating in a film which feels all too personal, one sided and sadly a little too try hard.
I Killed My Mother is certainly an accomplished piece of film which is affluent in both style and substance. However, until Dolan can successfully amalgamate the two into a more concise film he’ll remain much like the description given of Hubert as someone “who dreams in colour”. Certainly one to watch, but the high praise he’s collating needs to be put on hold until he finely tunes this abundance of talent.