I Killed My Mother (Xavier Dolan, 2009): Canada

Reviewed by Byron Potau. Viewed at Mann’s Chinese Theatre as part of the 2009 AFI Film Festival.

I Killed My Mother

Though not always on the mark, writer/director Xavier Dolan’s I Killed My Mother has true enough aim to make the viewer reflect upon their own love/hate relationships with their mothers and/or others equally close to them that they, at times, feel obligated to love.

Sixteen year old Hubert (Xavier Dolan) cannot stand his mother Chantale (Anne Dorval). They seem to find an endless number of meaningless things to argue about at the top of their lungs. Hubert first seems at fault, screaming in his mother’s face over ridiculous teenage issues that are meaningless, however, we see how Hubert’s mother can sometimes be just as childish as she invites Hubert to ride with her so he can rent a movie, then screams at him in front of everyone and drives away when she feels he has taken too long to pick out a movie. Hubert has a habit of videotaping himself talking extensively about his love/hate relationship with his mother and we see snippets of these recordings throughout. Hubert’s solution is to move out and get his own apartment with the money his grandmother left him, but his mother refuses to allow him to move out. They argue bitterly, but in the next few days Hubert tries to turn over a new leaf hoping she will allow him to go. Hubert makes a strong friendship with his female teacher, Julie (Suzanne Clement) who becomes a symbol of the type of relationship he wishes he had with his mother. Eventually, their fighting gets so bad that his mother sends him off to boarding school, separating him from his boyfriend, Antonin (Francois Arnaud), which makes him hate her even more.

Some of the fighting between Hubert and his mother seems over the top with Hubert screaming petulantly at her, but much of it also rings true. There are several scenes where you think they might be able to connect and move on, but they seem to always be on different wavelengths. Dolan makes a point to analyze the issue of feeling bound to someone you feel obligated to love, but can’t, at least not always.

One of the real strengths of Dolan’s film is its handling of gay subject matter. It is presented in such a manner that it is really a non issue that Hubert is gay, serving more to eliminate any sexual tension between Hubert and his teacher so that the nature of their relationship becomes clearer, even though the viewer cannot help but sense a sexual tension exists despite their different sexual orientations.

While the film is a bit uneven, it hits enough points on such a universal theme to make it relevant and worth watching, and will possibly touch a nerve with the right audience. In any case it is a successful debut as Dolan manages to show promise on both sides of the camera.

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