It was a crisp night in St. Petersburg as the city’s first International Media Forum had its gala opening with Xavier Dolan’s explosive mother-son drama, “Mommy.” The Cannes jury prize winner relates the tumultuous relationship between a sexy widow (Anne Dorval) and her troubled teen (Antoine-Olivier Dolan). Seeing it for the second time among a festive chattering audience at the city’s Old Stock Exchange that couldn’t quite sit still, I was taken again by the movie’s emotional power — it’s both freshly contemporary and Bergmanesque. I wept. Again.
Recently, while talking to Jessica Chastain about Bergman’s muse, Liv Ullmann and Chastain’s “Miss Julie” director, she described Ullmann as having no bones. In other words, she was all feeling, open to every possible emotion dark or light — which doesn’t make her fearless only brave.
This echoed for me while watching “Mommy,” because the performances are so volatile and yet grounded in the real world. Both Dorval and Pilon change minute to minute, dancing to raging, hope to despair, violent to tender. You have to be extremely open to embrace this kind of movie. It’s scenes from a mother-son relationship that we haven’t seen before.
The magnitude of the performances reminded me of the single principal I have to live by this early in the Oscar race: before Thanksgiving is a time to expand contenders, to seek out those performances and movies that may not be obvious candidates but that deliver Oscar power. Let’s not ghettoize “Mommy” as a Best Foreign Language Film contender even if it is Canada’s selection; let’s bring those brilliant performances forward.
While my Gold Derby colleague Pete Hammond argues persuasively that the Best Actor race should be expanded from five to ten, I think we should be looking even farther afield than Michael Keaton, Eddie Redmayne or Benedict Cumberbatch. Let’s throw Pilon in the mix. From mugging at the mirror in an homage to “Home Alone” to dancing seductively with his Mum and a middle-aged neighbor to exploding in intimate violence, this is a performance to watch and register.
And, in a year where Best Actress is looking a little thin, we’re calling on Quebec-native Dorval to join the fringe French speakers — Marion Cotillard (“Two Days, One Night”) and Juliette Binoche (“Clouds of Sils Maria,” which is also playing in St. Petersburg as well as the New York Film Festival) — to power into awards season playing thoroughly modern women of the world beyond Hollywood.