Food in Canadian Film, Part 2: J’ai tué ma mère

by Samantha Nardi

The plot of this film is driven by the incessant arguments of mother Chantale (Anne Dorval) and son Hubert (Xavier Dolan), from issues as small as the noise the mother makes while she eats, to the more serious argument that arises when she discovers her son’s hidden homosexuality. These scenes, among others in the film, are marked by the presence of food. Mentions of food, the presence of food in key moments, and most importantly, the multiple dinner scenes throughout are catalysts to the plot’s highly emotional and volatile plotline. Within a traditional familial sit-down dinner setup, these food scenes are the perfect backdrop to highlight minor grievances between mother and son. The opening sequence, framed through Hubert’s skewed perspective in a deliberately heavily edited format, is key in establishing the importance of food in the film.

The opening sequence of J’ai Tué Ma Mère depicts Chantale, eating breakfast, comprised of a juicy orange and a bagel smothered in cream cheese, while her son watches her. The scene commences as Hubert’s judgement-filled eyes look to his right, directing us to the following shot in which Chantale eats an orange slice, its juice squirting out of her mouth. Afterward, we watch as Chantale eats a bagel that has quite literally left its mark on her mouth. The scene then zooms out as Chantale licks her fingers, which makes Hubert lose his patience and start directing his mother to wipe it off. Through the use of slow motion as well as shot-reverse-shot close-ups of Chantale’s mouth and Hubert’s eyes, both the tension between the two and Hubert’s contempt towards his mother are highlighted. This scene becomes critical in setting the hostile tone of the movie that originates from the antagonistic relationship between Hubert and his mother.

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We are meant to experience a heightened sense of disgust, viewing this scene through Hubert’s bias. Hubert projects his accumulated frustration towards his mother onto the food, making the food a scapegoat of sorts. He nitpicks in order to find something to get annoyed about, so that he can in turn yell and therefore vent his frustrations about his relationship with his mother and his more deeply-rooted personal issues. It is evident that he is carping; if he had not solely been focusing on his mother, the food on her mouth and the slight bit of juice squirting out of her mouth would have gone unnoticedas such things usually are.

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One of the most emotionally heavy scenes in the film occurs when Chantale comes home and tells Hubert that she is going to make his favourite meal, beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes, with cake to top it off. Hubert, unimpressed with his mother’s attempt at an apology after sending him off to a boarding school, gets extremely upset and they get into an argument. The argument is brought to a slight standstill when Chantale reveals that she is aware of Hubert’s homosexuality and two-month long relationship with his boyfriend, which shocks Hubert. He then physically attacks his mother. The consequence of his actions is symbolized by the cake that Chantale had bought for her son; afterwards, she cuts the piece of cake with a sharp knife, representing the fracture and irreparable damage done to their relationship. This scene is the emotional peak of the movie. Chantale is not upset with her son for being gay, but rather at the lack of trust and communication between them, which resulted in her having to find out about her son’s sexual orientation through a stranger. Once again the food in the scene represents the state of their fractured relationship.

 

J’ai Tué Ma Mère. Dir. Xavier Dolan. Perf. Xavier Dolan and Anne Dorval. Rezo Films (France), K Film Amerique (Canada), Kino Lorber (US) 2009. DVD.

 

Photos by Alexia Moyer

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