Sons and Mothers

Article excerpt

WHY I CAN'T WATCH I KILLED MY MOTHER WITHOUT FIVE HANKIES ON HAND BY TIM MURPHY

Growing up a moody, closeted, indie teen in 1980s Massachusetts, I'd fight so violently with my big-hearted, sharp-tongued mother, I once flung a book of sheet music at her from behind the piano. She hurled the F-word at me once, shocking me - I'd never heard her say it before. Then, hours later, to the amazement of my father and straight brother, my mother and I would go lunching and shopping, laughing all the way, comparing purchases, sharing confidences. With each of us the other's passionate, restless, sardonic mirror image, it was a wonderful, exhausting relationship, one I've struggled with well into adulthood.

That's why I couldn't watch 20-year-old Montreal film prodigy Xavier Dolan's extraordinary debut I Killed My Mother (J'ai Tué Ma Mère)- the darling of Cannes last year- without laughing hysterically, weeping copiously, or, often, both. Dolan, a cute, mop-haired art twink and former Canadian child star, basically plays himself, Hubert Minel, a tortured, haughty, gay high school art head who fights constantly and often hilariously with his single mom, Chantale, an office administrator whose tacky clothes and ignorance of Jackson Pollock drive him to disgust and madness. Yet he loves her hopelessly, painfully, completely, even as he struggles, sometimes violently, to break away.

Written and directed by lifelong film buff Dolan with a beautifully hallucinogenic sureness of hand, the film goes deep into a heartbreaking Freudian struggle to reconcile a primary love affair, one that both defines and chains so many (especially gay) men, with the adolescent desire to find artistic, sexual, and personal freedom. Meanwhile, the abuse Chantale takes at the hands of the caustic, bratty son she loves so much, and her rage at life that simmers below her taut sarcasm, are illustrated by the lovely actress Anne Dorval, with a perfect, muted empathy. …