I Killed My Mother 2009
Distributed by Kino Lorber Edu, 333 West 39 St, Suite 503, New York, NY 10018; 212-629-6880
Produced by Xavier Dolan, Carole Mondello and Daniel Morin
Directed by Xavier Dolan
DVD, 96 min.
Sr. High - General Adult
Films, Homosexuality, Psychology, Sexuality
Date Entered: 09/05/2013Reviewed by Jennifer Dean, Graduate of the CUNY Graduate Center MALS program with thesis on female filmmakers.
I Killed My Mother is the directorial debut of Xavier Dolan who wrote the semi-autobiographical screenplay at the age of 16, a coming of age story about a young man and his contentious relationship with his mother. The film opens with a confessional black and white direct-to-camera address by the troubled teen Hubert (portrayed by director Xavier Dolan) poetically describing his connection (or lack thereof) with his mother. At first Hubert seems to be your typical angst ridden obnoxious teenager but through the course of the film his mother proves to be as immature and have as many issues as her son. Anne Dorval as Hubert’s mother, Chantale Lemming, gives a fantastic performance as a mother on the verge of insanity, constantly vacillating between a reasonable woman who clearly loves her son and someone who is co-dependent and possibly suffering from her own mother’s bipolar disorder (both as a result of having grown up with a mentally unstable mother and possibly as a psychological condition from which she too suffers). Xavier Dolan’s performance is sometimes overly deliberate and lacks subtlety but considering he directed and starred in the film at the young age of 19 it is impressive that he manages to stay true to the character and the relationships he has written. His performance is often grounded in the interplay with Dorval who manages the emotional material with ease.
Dolan develops some interesting characters and relationships outside of the confines of the antagonistic mother/son diegetic. Hubert tells his teacher (portrayed with nuance by actress Suzanne Clément) that he cannot interview his mother for a class project because she is dead, resulting in his mother’s storming into the classroom proving she is very much alive. Hubert then develops a kinship with the teacher who understands his difficulties with his mother and appreciates his talents as a writer. Hubert shares an intimate relationship with classmate Antonin who has a much closer relationship with his mother (who is perfectly comfortable with her son’s sexuality) providing a counter to the mother/son dynamic of Hubert and his less accepting mother.
Once Hubert’s mother discovers her son’s homosexual relationship she sends him off to boarding school, cutting him off from not only his boyfriend but her as well. Oedipal questions of mother/son relationships are evident throughout the film. Hubert loves and hates his mother simultaneously. She needs him and yet pushes him away just as he does (co-dependency abounds). When she drops him off at the bus to boarding school Hubert asks angrily “what if I were to die today” and runs off to catch the bus leaving his mother to quietly respond “I would die tomorrow.” Whether or not intentionally explored by the young director/writer, many traditional notions of homosexuality and mother/son relationships appear in the film and are ripe for discussion.
As a young filmmaker Dolan makes some interesting choices that work despite their unconventionality. Many scenes are shot with both characters facing camera, avoiding the more complicated over-the-shoulder shots (none of which appear in the film) and creating a much more presentational style for the film overall. Yet somehow he makes this less traditional staging work cinematically. There are several images interspersed throughout the film that provide a kind of shorthand to Hubert’s sub-conscious. Sometimes they seem out of place but often they are both interesting and sometimes humorous and fit within the context of the scattered mental state of the character. The film is beautifully shot with an appropriate score and wonderful performances by the supporting cast.
- Cannes Film Festival, C.I.C.A.E. Award, Prix Regards Jeune, SACD Prize (Directors’ Fortnight),
- Vancouver International Film Festival, Best Canadian Feature Film