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Mommy blows a gust of fresh air through Cannes amid speculation it could take the Palme d'Or

A scene from Xavier Dolan's Mommy.

Directed by Xavier Dolan

Starring; Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément

Mommy, the funny, brash, emotionally generous fifth feature film from the 25-year-old Quebec filmmaker Xavier Dolan, has blown a big gust of fresh air through this year's Cannes competition. Shortly after the first press screening on Thursday evening, the Twitterverse was alive with speculation that the late entry film could be the Palme d'Or winner. There's no doubt Mommy is one of those rare, raw nerve, passion projects, like last year's Cannes winner Blue is the Warmest Color, that leads juries and other viewers to cast aside reservations about modulation or concision and fall under the sway of Dolan's love for his emotionally messy characters and with the act of film-making itself.

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Mommy takes a welcome departure from the over-dressed archness of his last two Cannes entries, Heartbeats and Laurence Anyways (Dolan's fourth feature, Tom at the Farm, adapted from Michel Marc Bouchard's play, opens in Toronto and Vancouver next week). It returns to the subject of his explosive 2009 debut, I Killed My Mother, about the tempestuous relationship between a troubled teenaged boy and his single mother (again played by Anne Dorval). But the sympathy in this film is much more with tough, working-class mother Diane "Die" Despres, than with her son, hyperactive, vulnerable angel-devil Steve (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), whose violent outbursts are invariably followed by shame and contrition.

A lot of the Dolan elements are here - the familiar repeated shouting matches between co-dependent partners, the indulgent slow-motion montages to vintage pop tunes, the scorn for the boring and conventional - but they're subservient to the drama, a heartfelt tale of a three characters struggling for independence and dignity in a world that marks them as losers.

The story begins as Die crashes her car on her way to pick up her son, expelled from a juvenile facility for lighting fire to the cafeteria. But instead of this being a grim occasion, both mother and son, foul-mouthed, tempestuous and full of life force, seem joyous at being reunited.

Shortly after they've settled in, they meet a neighbour, Kyla (Laurence Anyways star, Suzanne Clément), a school teacher who is taking a health leave after developing an unexplained debilitating stammer. Drawn by Despres' frank energy and friendliness, she agrees to help home-school Steve. The dynamic between the three misfit characters makes this resemble a sort of Quebec answer to As Good as It Gets, but without the sugar-coating. Nearly all of Mommy is shot on a square frame (by the reliably excellent André Turpin) to suggest both the claustrophobia and whirling intensity of the Despres household, popping wide only twice: once as a vision of the future that Die dreams of for her son, which is a heartbreaking distance from the reality.

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