At the closing ceremony of the Quinzaine at this years edition of the Cannes film festival, the first time director Xavier Dolan had to go up on stage no less than three times to pick up an award. The third time he was notably moved, lost it for a moment and said something along the lines of “I just thought I’d go to Cannes, walk down the Croisette and see a few movies.” I have a strong feeling he’ll be back at the Croisette again. At 19, he does after all have a lifetime of moviemaking ahead of him. If they’re even close to being as good as this one, you’d better keep an eye on him and his future endeavors.
Not that I killed my mother (J’ai tué ma mère) is in any way a perfect film, but there is a raw energy there that makes almost every frame sparkle and buzz with electricity. A lot of that energy comes directly from Dolan himself. Impressively enough he has not only written and directed the film, but also plays the main character: Hubert Minel. Hubert is a troubled teenager, a rebel without a real cause - but where James Dean had a problem with his dad not being manly enough and, well, putting on an apron, Hubert hates his mother for the noises she makes when she eats, the crumbs and mayo she gets in the corner of her mouth, the small talking, the bad dressing and... The list continues.
In the first part of the film mother and son seem to argue constantly, and since neither one of them is a sympathetic character it’s also difficult to take side with - or even like - either one. At least to begin with. It’s when they start warming up to each other that the film really picks up. There is for instance a fantastic scene when Hubert, high on drugs, confesses to his mother how he really feels about her, and tries to speak about where it all went wrong between them. Dolan and Anne Dorval plays it out just right. Not too much, not too little - and they keep the balance between the humour, awkwardness and the sadness of the whole situation.
Some might argue that it’s a narcissistic film, and that Dolan has put too much effort in making himself look good - mind you, he really doesn’t have to try that hard to look good - but I don’t really see a problem in the fact that the camera obviously loves him. The feeling seems mutual. Dreamlike images mix with more realistic ones, and Dolan has definitely put in a little bit of James Dean swagger here, a slow Gus van Sant walk or two through a corridor there - but he has stolen with finesse, and has ultimately put all these elements together in a style that is his own.
More than anything, he perfectly captures the feeling of being a teenager - and manages to convey very well how the smallest things can be so full of meaning and emotions when teenage hormones are raging and every feeling is so big it feels like you’re about to explode. Many have tried and failed before, and it’s no easy task.