A new feature on the blog. This is for the many people who turn on Netflix/Amazon Instant Video/your Video On Demand service of choice all psyched to get some super film action, only to find themselves half an hour later, thumbing through titles that have become so meaningless you start to wonder if you’ve made them up (Examples: Evidence Of Blood, Craiglist Joe, Stalked By My Neighbour). At this point you’ve lost all enthusiasm for a film. By talking up some streamable hits here, hopefully you will have a go-to source for when the options are all too much.
Our starting point is Mommy, the fifth feature from Canadian director Xavier Dolan which is currently available on Netflix UK. It is the story of three people; widowed single mother Diane Després, her energetic but troublesome son Steve, and their neighbour across the street, Kyla, who suffers from a stammer. Despite their vivacity and constant banter, Diane and Steve are pulling each other down, afflicted by financial problems and the effects of Steve’s behaviour. Diane’s nickname, ‘Die’, threatens to be prophetic of an increasingly violent relationship. When Kyla becomes part of their lives, there is a new balance to their equation, and a chance to look upwards.
The subject matter may be kitchen-sink, but Dolan brings it to life with a confidence often shown by younger filmmakers. Whether it be playing the majority of the film in a 1:1 ratio, or allowing whole pop songs to play out in wordless, expressive sequences, he trusts his artistic instinct and deserves credit for that. These choices are not gimmicks, either; the 1:1 ratio both hearks back to the early days of cinema when ratios closer to a square were used, and calls forward to the mobile phone/app era – it is the identical ratio to Instagram. As for the hits, Dolan clearly loves his music and finds a connection between sound and motion. He is perhaps best known for directing Adele’s comeback ‘Hello’ video (currently the 11th most viewed Youtube video & climbing), which was comparatively sedate in its action; in Mommy the swells of Oasis’ Wonderwall & Counting Crows’ Colorblind (a possible homage to Cruel Intentions) are moments for the triumvirate to express through movement what they cannot say through speech.
Dolan’s progenitors appear to be many and pleasingly varied. He knows his French New Wave and the films that has influenced – there is a similar understanding of social values to Iñárritu’s Amores Perros (whatever happened to him?), while the tension between instinctive and social relationships that we have with neighbours recalls Rufus Norris’ underrated Broken. When seen through the square, which often centres one particular character or image, these socio-realist themes are subverted through a Wes Anderson-esque lens; these characters are presented as more interesting than just being ‘us’. Although the locations – supermarket, karaoke bar, dingy apartment – are familiar, what happens in each of these places makes the story more than worth your time.
Indeed for a film that seems rather straight on the surface, there is dancing, singing, drinking, broken glass, blood, madness, and more than a hint of sexual tension – a night out in Newcastle, if you will. As well as his film, one suspects the prodigiously talented Dolan – who was just 25 when this screened at Cannes 2014 – knows his 1960s drama. There is so much going on beneath the surface of these lives, and whether shouty (Diane and Steve) or unable to speak (Kyla), their initial presentation exists to hide the darkness of their inner selves, very much in the mode of Pinter or Albee.
All three leads put in searingly honest, potent performances, the kind that only come from an appreciation of what the character is going through; particular credit goes to Antoine Olivier-Pilon as Steve, who acts like all three youths from La Haine rolled into one. He is joyous, enraged, brash and terrified, sometimes all at once.
Dolan’s next film, The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, boasts an unbelievable cast list including Natalie Portman, Jessica Chastain, Nicholas Hoult, Susan Sarandon, Michael Gambon, Adele (mates rates) and starring Jon Snow himself Kit Harington; if he can manoeuvre them with the same skill as he does in Mommy, we will be seeing a whole lot more of this jeune auteur.