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DVD Watch: ‘I Killed My Mother’

A superlative take on teenage angst

By Kimberley Jones, 10:00AM, Tue. Aug. 13, 2013

DVD Watch: ‘I Killed My Mother’

I Killed My Mother (Kino Lorber, $29.95) pulses with so much raw, hair-trigger emotion, it’s no surprise it’s about a teenager. But here’s the real rub: It was made by a teenager, too.

Québécois writer/director Xavier Dolan was barely 20 when he debuted his first feature at Cannes in 2009, where it won an eight-minute standing ovation and then three awards. (He’s since made three more films, and none of them have yet to see theatrical dark in Austin; sounds rather ripe for an Austin Film Society intervention, oui?) The French-language, autobiographically inflected I Killed My Mother revolutionizes nothing in its story of a perpetually angry, semi-closeted 16-year-old and his suburban-dowdy single mom, but the real tale is in the telling – in its volatility and volubility, its hyper-emotion so beautifully, outrageously splayed there’s just no containing it.

Dolan stars as Hubert, a sensitive, artistic kid at loggerheads with his provincial mom, Chantale (Anne Dorval). Everything is a battlefield for them: The drive to school is a volley of bickering, a trip to the video store – an olive branch from Chantale – ends in Hubert’s public humiliation. Even when they’re on their best behavior, they bring out the worst in each other; they know how to push the other’s buttons, which makes them deeply plausible as mother and son.

Unbeknownst to Chantale, Hubert has a boyfriend, the sweet, uncomplicated Antonin Rimbaud (François Arnaud). Tripping over that last name? Dolan crams his film with literary and cultural quotations (Maupassant, Jean Cocteau, James Dean, River Phoenix), and the French New Wave influence is palpable, most especially in a framing technique that intellectually hangs together (it underscores how rarely physical nearness translates into a shared emotional space) but nonetheless reads as self-consciously arty. Similarly ill-begotten is a series of black & white monologues, intended perhaps to goose the suspense embedded in the title but ultimately an unnecessary indulgence. Still: You can’t tear your eyes away from the luscious-faced Dolan, a former child actor. If he sometimes overreaches, then all the better. This is a film inflamed with youth, in all its wild ambitions and sometime-stumbles.

Also Out Now

Two distinct but compatible TV shows helmed and starring women hit shelves today: Lena Dunham’s Girls: The Complete Second Season (HBO Studios, $39.98), which provided more watercooler fodder in its contentious second season, and Mindy Kaling’s The Mindy Project: Season One (Universal Studios, $29.98), a work-in-progress sitcom that kickily rides the line between prickly and precious; it deserves a bigger audience.

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