Glasgow Film Festival reviews: Mommy | Altman

Cannes-winning film, Mommy. Picture: Contributed
Cannes-winning film, Mommy. Picture: Contributed
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XAVIER Dolan’s Mommy announces his singular talent and vision, writes Alistair Harkness

Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan is frequently lauded and lambasted simply for having the temerity to make five feature films before turning 25. Great filmmaking, though, isn’t predicated on age but on having a voice and an ability to express it cinematically, something Dolan most surely does if his most recent film, the Cannes-winning Mommy (****), is anything to go by. Receiving its Scottish premiere at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, it’s a work of searing intensity and formal brilliance, built around a trio of full-tilt performances hemmed in by Dolan’s bold decision to reduce the aspect ratio of the screen to that of an upright iPhone in portrait mode.

It’s an effect that cleverly puts us in the chaotic headspace of Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), an ADHD-afflicted teen with limited prospects who is discharged from hospital into the care of his single mother, Diane (Anne Dorval). Diane’s a good sort, but her relationship with the frequently manic Steve is fraught with difficulty. Luckily, relief comes in the form of Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a shy teacher recovering from a breakdown that has left her with a stutter. She and Steve form an instant rapport and for a while, their nascent friendship expands Steve’s horizons, something that Dolan expresses in one of the most gorgeous and heartbreaking moves in the film, one that demands to be seen on a big screen. What follows is an unashamedly emotional assault on the senses, reminiscent of early Almodóvar in terms of the frequently histrionic nature of the performances, but in all other ways suggestive of a unique talent coming into its own in thrilling fashion.

On the subject of unique talents, Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky is best remembered now for making the ultimate midnight movie, El Topo (1970), but in the mid-1970s he was on the verge of cracking the mainstream with a big budget version of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi opus Dune. The film collapsed before any cameras rolled, but its crazy pre-production resulted in a comprehensive book of storyboards, production designs and concept art that told the entire story of the film. That story is the subject of Jodorowsky’s Dune (****), an entertaining documentary exploration of what might have been, but also what came to be, thanks to the way the unproduced film ended up having a seminal impact on the future blockbuster landscape. Jodorowksy’s also an entertainingly frank interviewee, particularly when the subject turns to David Lynch’s disastrous adaptation of the same book.

Jodorowsky turns up again in My Life Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (**), offering creative advice to the titular director of Drive and marital advice to Refn’s wife, Liv Corfixen, as they set off to Thailand to make Refn’s most recent film, Only God Forgives. Sadly, the ensuing behind-the-scenes look at the production of what turned out to be a very divisive movie is neither especially illuminating about Refn’s creative process, nor as revealing as the title implies it’s going to be about the domestic tensions between Refn and Corfixen (the film’s actual director). Hearts of Darkness it ain’t.

Similarly disappointing is Altman (**), a depressingly conventional exploration of American cinema’s most fearless rebel, M*A*S*H director Robert Altman. The film intersperses banal anecdotes and interviews with clips of his films and his most famous collaborators offering definitions of the term ‘Altman-esque’ – a term which, ironically, could never be applied to this film.

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