Mommy is Diane – Die – Després (Anne Dorval), all stacked heels and fully made-up, whom we meet picking up her son from a secure unit. He suffers from ADHD, but mum has a few anger management issues of her own: she’s a naughty rebel with a filthy mouth and a worse attitude. When she signs her son out of the home, dotting her i’s with hearts, we worry that this woman is in no way capable of caring for the volatile Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon). Yet despite her foul mouth and hot temper, Die is determined to home-school her son, keep him on his meds and out of trouble. Die’s neighbours are also in the picture. First is Paul, a lawyer who has the hots for Die, and the much more enigmatic Kyla (Suzanne Clement), the stuttering woman who lives across the street with her husband and young daughter, surrounded by packing cases.
Kyla very soon becomes part of Die and Steve’s family. A teacher on sabbatical, we wonder what transpired to cause her stammer – perhaps a situation with a student like Steve? The reason is never touched upon or spoken of by the characters, all we see are photos in her bedroom of her young son. Kyla is crippled by her stammer, and Die and Steve are crippled by his illness, exacerbated by the death of Steve’s father three years previously. This trio begins to thrive, each finding in the others a crutch and a substitute for those missing in their lives.
In a wonderful cinematographic trick, Steve physically widens the aspect ratio and finally we can all breathe a little more freely, a visual treat that earned applause here in Cannes. However, the protagonists’ respite is short-lived and soon the frame narrows again, entrapping the characters in their problematic and grieving lives. When the trio are happy, Steve snaps a group selfie. This is countered later by a dramatic supermarket scene, Die and Kyla dragging the bleeding Steve out in an image reminiscent of the two Marys with Jesus.
This is a visual feast of a film, steeped in rich colour with unusual touches, such as the blurring of the guests as Die envisions her son’s future wedding. Music plays an important role as we first see Die and Steve with their music simultaneously playing, in a clash that mirrors their conflict. Later we hear a compilation made by Die’s dead husband and watch Steve sing Vivo Per Lei for his mother at a karaoke club. But the real feast lies in the performances, most notably Dorval’s who never lets the dramatic become melodrama. Her powerful and deeply touching performance must surely put her in stead for the Best Actress award here, and deservedly so. This is a mature, funny and tragic mother’s tale.