It is strikingly obvious that young Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan has got the strongest grip on an expansive, articulate cinematic vision of his own. Written, directed, produced and headlined by himself, J'ai Tue Ma Mere plays like a semi-autobiographical therapy that x-rays the flailing relationship between a closeted teenager and his mother. If anything, the end result is an interesting change of pace from the all-too-resemblant mainstream filmscape here in Quebec. Unfortunately, the whole exercise is also a pretty good reminder why film school students are usually asked to go through more than just a couple of rewrites before they are given cameras and proper distribution.
Not that J'ai Tue Ma Mere is too personal for its own good, for nearly everyone who's been through adolescence can relate to those strange and devouring breakdowns concerning the mommy'n'daddy relationships. Really, it's not so much about *why* than it is about *how* the communication deteriorates, and Dolan clearly understands that-- indeed, the motives that push Hubert Minel and his mother into their confrontational crazes aren't tragic or insurmountable, but they are indeed evidence that the two have grown to be different, separate human beings. Incompatible manners, opposite tastes in aesthetics, dissimilar priorities... all of these issues ring true. We come very quickly to understand that the problematic nature of bond exists mostly because both are forced to fit into the mother/son mold, and that Hubert would very probably like his mother if she simply wasn't his mother. But Dolan doesn't seem to trust his scenes on their own, and what bubbles underneath the facade is quickly brought to the surface-- all thanks to uneven subjective fantasy flashes, or redundant black-and-white intermissions full of closeups in which Hubert directly speaks the camera.
For its few genuine moments of raw emotion, the film ends up feeling much too didactic, and not solely because of what is said about what's happening onscreen, but also because of how precious little is shown without commentary-- Dolan's directing is a bit of a mixed bag. He evidently tries an ambitious patchwork of style effects, a few of them superb, a few of them just bad and a whole of them simply too obvious. The unease isn't expressed, it's highlighted; the sorrow isn't evoked, it's spilled everywhere; the frustration isn't channeled, it's jolted right out of proportion. His stylistic choices aren't organically brought into the story-- they emerge rather loudly, distancing us from the picture. The cramped, purposedly flat compositions coated with low lightings also make sure everything we watch has to happen in a boxed-in universe, even when it's not about Hubert and his mother. For example, the gentle connection he feels with a caring school teacher (played by Suzanne Clement), is even handled with the same visual heavy-handedness. We are left to wonder if all human rapports in J'ai Tue Ma Mere are meant to look so suffocating, or if the mise en scene simply plays it sullen for style's sake.
Even if the central characters are meant to occupy all the space in the film, we get the feeling that their surroundings are underdevelopped. Indeed, the supporting players often dive into outright caricature, leaving them as cyphers that hardly seem to exist outside of their purpose to the main conflict. Therefore, the artistic boyfriend & his outrageously cool mum, the distant father, the kindhearted teacher and such all appear to have no intrinsec personality, even if the are portrayed by skillful performers. Really, Dolan only seems to keep the focus for himself and his mother, which is on par with the film's goals but leaves little breathing room or nuance for every other element or theme in the film. The character of Hubert himself only elicits shades of sympathy, and the tendency that Dolan has to victimize him (he is attacked by homophobes later in the story, and he decides to say nothing) badly contrasts with the unrelenting arrogance that surrounds his persona & motives. His performance is very mannered, to say the least, but at least it serves the character just right. He nevertheless manages to draw a brave, full-on portrayal from Anne Dorval, who brings a distinct sensibility to a role that easily might've been played as hysterically as her son's. The quality-varying dialogue sounds just right when she delivers it, and she sells her tremendous confusion and anger without doing it too broadly.
Nevertheless, we can sense that this whole introspection isn't something that has had enough time to cook, and while I'm all for capturing feelings while they're fresh and untouched (especially when working with the theme of adolescence), J'ai Tue Ma Mere is a film that might have benefited from a more succint approach, or at least a couple more years of gestation. It's enough to see Xavier Dolan's obvious talent and cinematic ardor, but as a film experience, it doesn't go down very smoothly. J'ai Tue Ma Mere remains interesting in its essence, but it sadly tells too much and shows too little.