At the tender age of 19, French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan released his debut feature film, I killed My Mother, an incredibly intense examination of a troubled mother-son relationship with a strong autobiographical dimension. Now, seven years have passed and the 26-year-old Dolan returns to the familiar thematic terrain of his first film with Mommy, a bold, provocative and darkly comic family drama which rightfully won the Jury prize at the 2014 Cannes film festival.
Mommy is set in a fictional, yet realistic Canada, where a new bill has been passed which gives parents “the moral and legal” right to place a disobedient child into the care of a public hospital without due process of law. This all-too-easy legal solution to dealing with a problematic child looms large over the tumultuous relationship at the film’s centre.
Anne Dorval plays Diane, a recently widowed, feisty single mother simultaneously struggling to make ends meet and deal with her unruly 15 year-old son, Steve. Young actor Antoine Pilon is a revelation as Steve: an untameable, foul-mouthed teenager and ADHD sufferer who switches from naïve charm to explosive violence at the drop of a hat. Into this domestic fray comes neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a teacher who offers to tutor Steve and whose calming presence temporarily provides a semblance of stability to the dysfunctional lives of mother and son.
Interestingly, Dolan has chosen to use a very narrow, almost square aspect ratio which compresses and intensifies the on-screen emotions, while conveying the constricted nature of the characters’ current lives. On one particular occasion, Steve looks directly into the camera, reaches out with his hands and physically widens the screen ratio, a visually playful way of expressing the thrilling sense of hope and freedom which he feels at that particular moment of the film. Such formal daring and experimentation can be found throughout Mommy.
A roller coaster ride of emotional extremes and formal brilliance, Mommy confirms Dolan as a prodigiously talented young director who has developed the right balance of visual style and emotional substance to deliver what is quite possibly his masterpiece. Let’s hope his promising career hasn’t peaked too early.
Carmen is in her fifties and lives and works at the Caribana Hotel, where she spends her days scrubbing toilets and practising her English with audio lessons. She likes wearing lace and eating chocolate bars while quietly repeating the dialogue in foreign movies.
Luis is old. He enjoys white rum, Cuban music and paying for sex to alleviate his loneliness.
Carmen is planning to leave soon so she can be reunited with her brother who lives in New York. That is until she meets Luis, whose monotonous life has taken a sour turn with the loss of a loved one.
She has a broken radio. He fixes radios. When their paths cross it becomes impossible for the audience not to root for them to fall in love. Ruido Rosa (Pink Noise), a romantic dramedy directed by Colombian filmmaker Roberto Flores Prieto, is a reference to the sound that radios make when switching frequencies.
After introducing the two main characters, Flores Prieto takes us on a slow journey into an odd, rainy, oneiric vision of Barranquilla. Everything in this city looks old: people, buildings, clothes and, especially, home appliances. With an extreme care for cinematography and production design, the film’s aesthetics create a vintage atmosphere where people still use typewriters, pay phones and, well, old radios.
There aren’t too many people in that world. Just a few quirky secondary characters, like the Chinese cashier that speaks in a perfect costeño accent, or the brutally honest but charming hairdresser who gives Carmen a makeover. In a way, the film is an ode to the decaying beauty of a city that, in its glory days, was the first great metropolis of Colombia.
With Ruido Rosa, Flores Prieto makes a big impression as part of an emerging group of directors trying to reinvent the national film landscape. The group distinguishes themselves by trying to change the way people think about Colombian cinema.
Flores Prieto picked up the award for best director at the Cartagena International Film Festival, and the remarkable Mabel Pizarro, who plays Carmen, was named best actress at the Huelva Latin American Film Festival last November. Now, Ruido Rosa is showing in commercial theatres as it aims to appeal to a wider public.
Relying on a growing cinephile audience that yearns for movies that are out of the ordinary, this film tells a compelling love story that could be set anywhere in the world and still make the viewer relate to the humanity of its characters and their desire to be in tune with each other.
By Robin Davies & Jazid Contreras