When he was 16 years old, Canadian actor Xavier Dolan wrote the script for his debut film, “I Killed My Mother” (original title: J’ai tué ma mère). Three years later, he would take the film, which he also directed, to the Director’s Fortnight at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, where it won three awards. Since then, Dolan has become an internationally-acclaimed filmmaker, and his latest film, “Mommy,” was awarded with the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014. Looking back at “I Killed My Mother,” it’s no wonder that the young director has become such a success: An LGBT coming-of-age drama, it is a rare “gay film” that strikes a chord with LGBT and straight audiences alike.
“I Killed My Mother” is told from the point-of-view of Hubert (Dolan), a sixteen-year-old boy who has a contentious and, at times, turbulent relationship with his mother, Chantale (Anne Dorval), with whom he lives without the presence of his father (Pierre Chagnon). The two fight almost constantly: Everything that his mother does annoys Hubert to no end, while to Chantale, Hubert is an ungrateful brat who takes every she does for him as a single mother for granted. Hubert is uncommunicative towards his mother; when she finds out that her son has been dating his best friend Antonin (François Arnaud) from Antonin’s mother (Patricia Tulasne), she is embarrassed and hurt that Hubert hadn’t told her about his homosexuality. Partially as a result of the rift that has widened between them due to Hubert’s dishonesty, his parents decide to send him to a boarding school, from which he escapes and flees to the countryside with Antonin. Chantale finds Hubert at the place where their family lived when he was a child; the films ends with the mother and son sitting together on the rocks of a beach, where they presumably talk about their relationship and Hubert’s behavior.
While “I Killed My Mother” is a fresh and exciting viewing experience in more ways than one, perhaps the most unique characteristic of the film is that it examines the relationship between a mother and her son in a way that is normally reserved for father/son relationships. Very rarely do coming-of-age films stray from the “mummy’s boy” and “daddy’s girl” stereotypes when portraying relationships between parents and their children, so it’s refreshing to see a film break away from the norm and show an unhealthy dynamic between a mother and son.
Dolan has said that the film is largely autobiographical, and it shows. Most coming-of-age dramas are written by adults who are trying to remember what it was like to be sixteen: angry, confused, immature. Dolan actually was sixteen when he wrote the script for “I Killed My Mother,” which gives the film a raw authenticity to which all films of the genre aspire, but only some succeed in achieving. Anybody who was a closeted gay youth can relate to the film because it was written by a closeted gay youth, but more than that, anybody who was a youth can relate to the film because it was written by a youth. Dolan simply channeled his emotions, thoughts, and perceptions into the script; he didn’t have to try to remember what it was like to be the main character because he was, for all intents and purposes, that character, even going so far as to play the role of Hubert himself. As a result, “I Killed My Mother” is a tremendously honest and relatable experience, even if Hubert isn’t necessarily the most likable or level-headed character.
That’s not to say that the film is without its faults. Dolan indulges himself with some of the stylistic choices throughout “I Killed My Mother,” and the first act feels a little like an unsure filmmaker trying to direct a masterpiece. The film sometimes struggles to find a consistent tone, shifting from “edgy LGBT message movie,” to coming-of-age melodrama, to dark comedy without much of a sense of direction. Essentially, the film falls into many of the traps that trip up most first-time directors, but it seems almost unfair to fault Dolan for that, especially considering how much he got right.
“I Killed My Mother” may have announced Xavier Dolan’s arrival as a talented up-and-coming director to watch in the coming years, but this is one debut that should not be overlooked. Written with such a potent honesty that coming-of-age dramas can only hope to convey, the film is relatable to a wide range of audiences, no small feat for an LGBT film. The feat is only compounded by the fact that Dolan was only nineteen when he made it, making “I Killed My Mother” an extraordinary accomplishment for the young filmmaker.
Continue Reading Issue #5
June 5, 2009
1 hr. 36 min.
Xavier Dolan, Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clément, François Arnaud