With government understanding of mental health arguably reaching a new low, the release of Mommy provides a powerful contribution to the debate. A subtle French-Canadian drama about the complex, raw relationship between a mother and son, it takes place in an alternate Canada (more interesting than it sounds, trust me!) and features excellent performances and striking photography. Opening with a car smash, the film pitches us squarely into the life of Die (Anne Dorval), who’s struggling to keep herself on track via her priority, maladjusted teenager Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon). In some ways she’s as wayward as he is, and there’s a surprising amount of rapid fire, witty conversation as the pair arrive home after his stint in a correctional facility. One of the main strengths of the piece is that you like this pair, and the action cuts through their outward appearance to present a genuine portrait of a broken family – shattered following the death of Steve’s father, who left his loved ones in debt. It’s the inevitable moment when Steve’s behaviour tips over into violence and confusion that seriously pulls the rug out from under the viewer, showing that this is a very real balancing act for the drowning “Mommy”, who’s running out of money and options. The premise of the movie hinges on a fictional law change which directly addresses Die’s situation, and when these two elements collide toward the end if the story, an epic moral question is posed, one that writer/director Xavier Dolan leaves to the audience to pass judgment on. Dorval and Pilon make these layered central characters shine, which is no mean feat. Die and Steve are at once parent and child and a partnership. Giving good support is Suzanne Clément as Kyla, a teacher recovering during a unexplained but damaging sabbatical, who finds solace in the company of the pair when they move across the street from her. The most eye-catching element of the film is the way it’s been shot, with Dolan and cinematographer André Turpin opting for a 1:1 screen ratio. Initially this makes proceedings look like a giant YouTube video, but there’s a role this format plays in representing events, and on the odd occasions when the team widen the frame it creates freedom from the constraints the camera places on the players. In a strange way the narrow picture lets you focus on the image more and some sequences of Steve out on his skateboard are beautifully-handled. Noia‘s haunting soundtrack (American Beauty-like in tone) features some familiar tunes, from White Flag to Wonderwall, to evoke the boy’s inner world. This probably sounds like a bleak tale, and it is. However it’s also warm, funny and offers hope despite the crushing central message about the interaction of money, institution and the human spirit. And there’s perhaps no better way of summing this up than Dolan’s use of Lana Del Rey over the end credits. Formidable! This review appeared on The Hollywood News.