What it's about:
In a fictionalised futurist world, a new law allows distressed parents to abandon their troubled children to the hospital system. Diane (Die) Despres (Anne Dorval), a feisty single mother, has to pick up her teenage son Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) from the institution where he lives, because he's hurt a smaller boy. Steve, who has ADHD, is wild, yet charismatic. While she struggles to make ends meet and raise Steve with values, they meet Kyla, a mysterious neighbour who has trouble speaking after a traumatic incident. She's a former teacher and when Die asks for her help, she reluctantly agrees to homeschool Steve. Even so, Die has trouble with Steve, who has bouts of violent rage and she finally has to decide if she can continue to cope with him at home.
What we thought:
The challenges to any foreign language film's success is its ability to resonate across international waters; to be able to reach out to any country's audience and appeal to their own lives – and although Mommy echoes the struggle of most single parents trying to raise a volatile child, it's set in the context of Canadian healthcare and a parent's ability to hand over their child to the government. Place this family in a South African context, and you get a vastly different story.After her son gets kicked out of the umpteenth mental facility, a widowed mother resolves to get her child on the right track through home-schooling, while trying to find work and not get beaten up by her own son. In-between, a shy neighbour enters their lives and shines as a beacon of hope to the desperate family.Despite the fact that Mommy won the Jury Prize at Cannes, was nominated for the Palm d’Or and had won at various international film festivals, it was a film that fell to that 'art-film hubris' of being way too bloody long. I felt myself losing concentration throughout the film, which is in part the amount of scenes that could've been cut and part that I am not the target audience for this emotional portrait of a mother and son, and I believe most South Africans would also lose out on that emotional connection with the film’s characters.As for the actors themselves, all who are well known in Canadian film and television, the best is Suzanne Clément who portrays the shy neighbour, fighting to communicate through her emotional stuttering and sometimes she breaks through in powerful and surprising bouts of confrontation. Between the intense and overly violent turmoil of the mother and son, Clément gives the film balance in her mostly calm performances. It’s hard to determine whether or not my utter distaste for the son, played by Antoine-Olivier Pilo, is because of the actor or the character, who hardly elicits sympathy for his mental issues. Overbearing and violent narcissism, it’s hard to see authenticity in the director and character’s portrayal of ADHD.Mommy is suited to the art-film aficionados and those interested in mental instability, but even the choice to use switching between 4:3 aspect ratio and widescreen (a Wes Anderson favourite) wouldn’t attract a very large niche of South African cinephiles.
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