We excitedly countdown to the 72nd Festival de Cannes with a different prize winning film each day.
Prix de Jury – Xavier Dolan
Xavier Dolan’s 2014 drama, Mommy is set in a hypothetical future in which parents can legally send their ‘troubled’ children to public hospitals in an attempt to control behaviour.
Diane’s son Steve has ADHD alongside some violent tendencies. Mommy explores how far Diane and intriguing neighbour, Kyla will go to help Steve – while learning a few things about each other along the way.
Mommy premiered at Cannes Festival in 2014 where it received a 13-minute standing ovation and won the Prix du Jury award (or rather, joint award with Goodbye to Language by Jean-Luc Godard).
Here’s what makes it such a worthy winner:
An utterly natural cast
One of the stand-out features of Mommy is how convincing the three protagonists are. From the ear-splitting arguments to the moments filled with laughter, you’d be forgiven for believing Steve, Diane and Kyla are a ‘real’ family.
It’s clear in the subtle, endearing, family-like actions (telling your kid to be quiet, laughing at a naughty joke) that the actors were incredibly comfortable with each other. This naturalness makes the chaotic and heartbreaking family dynamics all the more emotional and difficult to watch.
Use of square aspect ratio
It’d be difficult to review Mommy without mentioning the unconventional use of aspect ratio. Dolan is the first to use 1:1 ratio (or square aspect ratio), which makes for a whole new experience.
In an attempt to get as close as possible to characters when experiencing deep emotions, the use of 1:1 ratio is perfect. It’s too close for comfort – it’s uncomfortable. And we feel the character’s emotions all the more.
And because it’s not used throughout, it’s almost a signpost to sit up and take notice: something is about to happen. What’s more, Dolan’s characters break the fourth wall in a delightfully different way – in one scene Steve ‘expands’ the screen, changing the ratio to a wider picture. The scene in question is one in which Steve is happy and skateboarding, suggesting 1:1 is used to heighten morose scenes, whereas the wider screen shows us the literal wider picture and the character’s freedom and happiness.
Alongside a wonderful cast and unusual aspect ratio is the brilliant, apt soundtrack. Dolan uses a mix of classic hits such as Wonderwall, White Flag and Colourblind to give each scene a familiarity – to reinforce we’re watching a family experience problems lots of families go through.
Each track is chosen carefully to reflect the mood of the characters. Steve’s skateboarding scene is paired with Noel Gallagher of Oasis’ Wonderwall (even using Steve’s cough at the start). It’s perfect because it’s the anthem of youth – the ultimate ‘scream it at the top of your lungs’ track of young adults.
Dolan’s selection of Born to Die by Lana Del Ray is also painfully fitting. Her haunting tones voice the final scene in which Steve attempts an escape to freedom once again. And with behaviour like Steve’s, maybe it’s true?
Xavier Dolan’s fifth feature film combines a stellar cast, intriguing style and an ideal soundtrack to create a memorable, painfully-natural drama. The epitome of the Prix du Jury award:
“…intended to recognize an original work that embodies the spirit of inquiry.”