This year's marketing slogan is 'Unleashed', though 'All About my Mother' might have served more accurately – on Tuesday, at least. This was when two films about pent-up teenagers with overwhelming mother issues screened consecutively – Xavier Dolan's Cannes multiple prize-winner I Killed My Mother (Canada), a fresh twist on the Rebel Without a Cause scenario, and Florin Serban's competition entry, If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Romania).
Both marked auspicious debut films for their directors, the former especially: Dolan was only 19 when he wrote and directed it with himself in the lead role (his follow-up, Heartbeats, screened at the weekend in competition). Dolan's Hubert is a troubled, gay 16-year-old who believes his suburban life is hell and sets out daily to drag his divorced mother into the same emotional pit. Resentment at his parents for their divorce seems to be the root problem, rather than confusion about his sexuality, though the script wisely leaves viewers to reach their own conclusions.
While Dolan's performance had only two gears, sulking or yelling, I had to admire the honesty with which he depicts the character's selfishness knowing many viewers will, whether rightly or wrongly, read the story as a version of his own life. I also loved the sympathy he showed as a filmmaker towards Hubert's mother. The scene where she finally explodes in a torrent of escalating rage triggered by a patronising comment from her son's headmaster was an ecstatic film festival moment that inspired viewers to break into delighted applause.
The mother-obsessed youth in Serban's prison hostage drama is a 19-year-old with only two weeks to his release when fears his flighty mother will take his younger brother to Italy (repeating a pattern of abuse he suffered) lead him to snap. That means taking a pretty student hostage and demanding his mother be brought to the gaol. After a slow-burn start this turned into a witheringly tense drama leavened, towards the climax, by unexpected humour.
Note the above have been far from the only films centring upon inter-generational relationships and parenthood: you can add worried prospective adoptive parents (Australian India-set drama The Waiting City); a child obsessed with her dead father (The Tree); and struggling elderly women concerned about the fate of their grandsons, one a murder victim, the other the accused (Brillante Mendoza's humanistic Filipino competition entry Lola, which sadly looked like a shabby home video).
In Kawasaki's Rose, from SFF Czech favourite Jan Hrebejk, a young man is bitter about the heroic status afforded his professor of a father-in-law, a famous dissident during the Communist era (who turns out to have an unflattering secret). While rich in moral philosophical discussion, as storytelling this fell a long way below the director's best.
The festival's most obvious crowd-pleaser to date, Kiwi hit comedy Boy, also hangs on a parental relationship. A young Maori boy in a rural community idolises his loser father, who returns from jail not to reconnect with the son he barely knows but to search for the buried money he left behind. He hangs out with the kid all the same. Filmmaker Taika Waititi (Eagle vs Shark) makes buckets of charm go a long way.