“What would you do if I died today?”
“I’d die tomorrow.”
Research before re-watching J’ai tué ma mère brings up the staggering information that Dolan was 16 when he wrote the screenplay and 19 when he directed it. He also acknowledges that the story is partly autobiographical, and it fills me with admiration that someone so young is able to express such complexity in relationships – and then transfer it to screen so succinctly.
The film opens with a black & white confessional (which appears a couple of times later in the film too) in which Dolan’s character (Hubert) talks about his difficult relationship with his mother. The image then snaps into slow motion colour with accompanying music which, in combination, immediately brings to mind the work of Wong-Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love – full of emotion unexpressed.
Our first view of mother and son together shows him watching her eat – rolling his eyes in disgust as she crams a cream cheese bagel into her mouth. Shortly afterwards we see them arguing as she drives him in her car – the kid is antagonistic and he seems like so many petulant teenagers trying to find themselves as they grow into adults and prepare to become independent from their parents. And yet the mother (the wonderful Anne Dorval) isn’t perfect.
She’s doing her best as a single mother with a demanding teenage son who despises her for her clothes, her choice in home furnishings, her friends. It will never be enough for Hubert, particularly in comparison to the pal-like, modern relationship his friend Antonin shares with his mother in their airy, beautifully decorated home. And while Hubert finds temporary refuge from the continuous emotional maternal battle with one of his (female) teachers (Suzanne Clément), he is unaware that his haranguing of his mother does nothing to alter her love for him. In fact, her telephone explosion at the school’s principal tells us everything we need to know (and in fact everything Hubert needs to know if he could only hear her).
Such an extraordinary debut and such insight into people from one so young.