Despite seven nominations, Canada has only won Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars once — “The Barbarian Invasions” back in 2003. However, more recently it reaped three bids in a row beginning in 2010 (“Incendies,” “Monsieur Lazhar,” “War Witch”). Can this year’s submission, “Mommy,” build on that momentum?
Despite being just 25, “Mommy” marks director Xavier Dolan’s fifth film. His 2009 feature debut, “I Killed My Mother,” was Canada’s Oscars entry back in 2009 but did not reap a bid. This time around, he is coming off a Special Jury Prize at Cannes for his efforts, whcih also included producer, writer, editor, costume designer and subtitle translator.
The title character in “Mommy” is a widowed working-class woman (Anne Dorval) struggling to raise her unstable teenage son (Antoine Olivier Pilon). The film, which clocks in at two hours and nineteen minutes, is engrossing as it moves unpredictably from comedy to heartbreak a dozen times over. Thankfully, the actors are up to the task.
Dorval gives a stand-out performance while Pilon brings a physicality to his role that effortlessly shifts from playful to explosive. By all rights, he should be in the conversation for Best Actor at the Oscars but his youth and French-language performance in a Canadian film work against him.
While critics and audiences, including mine at the Vancouver International Film Festival, have been largely receptive, there are potential obstacles on the film’s road to Oscar. The unique one-to-one aspect ratio could be considered annoying by some. And the heightened energy threatens to overwhelm the audience.
Indeed, while the introduction of the third protagonist, a stutterer (Suzanne Clément), suggests quieter times ahead, Pilon shouts most of his dialogue to compensate and Dorval is equally loud.
With that said, few films have been as successful at the Oscars in recent years than the ones directed by David O. Russell (2010’s “The Fighter,” 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” 2013’s “American Hustle”) in which the there is a lot of frenetic energy, with family members pitted against each other in screaming matches. As such, the son’s ADHD in “Mommy” might get the attention of Oscar voters.