By Michael Roddy and Alexandria Sage
CANNES France (Reuters) - Whizz-kid Canadian director Xavier Dolan screened a tour-de-force black comedy at Cannes about a disturbed teenager's relationship with his mother, while Ken Loach's "Jimmy's Hall," shown on Thursday, described a communist leader from Ireland's past.
The film by Dolan, 25, won raves from critics after its press screening on Wednesday night. British director Loach's latest, on the other hand, was described by one reviewer as "inert". Only three days are left until the main prizes are awarded on Saturday.
"Mommy" is one of three Canadian films competing for the Palme d'Or, alongside David Cronenberg's critique of Hollywood, "Maps to the Stars", and "The Captive" from Atom Egoyan.
It is the fifth film by Dolan, who took Cannes by storm in 2009 with three awards for his debut, "I Killed My Mother." As its title suggests, he is sometimes described as being engaged in "therapy through filmmaking" to work out his relationship with his mother.
"I don't know why this is such fertile ground that inspires me, why do I so often talk about the role of mother in society, the role of women in general," said at a news conference.
"I grew up in a single-family home and I saw my mother fighting for things," he said. "And that made me want, through cinema, to take revenge in a sense. You have the right to do anything you want in a film."
The riveting Anne Dorval plays Diane, or "Die", a single mother trying to raise Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon), a foul-mouthed and mentally unstable teenage son prone to violent outbursts who has just been released from detention.
The film shows Steve, fresh out of a detention center which he has tried to burn to the ground, returning from the mall to proudly present his mother with a necklace that says "Mommy."
But when she accuses him of stealing it, his face falls, a fuse blows and Steve goes ballistic,. He smashes the living room and, in a weeping, breathless rage, takes out his frustration, anger and sense of betrayal on her.
The film is cinematically inventive - using shifting aspect ratios - and is loud and energetic as the indefatigable Die struggles to control her uncontrollable son. Variety chief critic Peter Debruge called it "a funny, heartbreaking and, above all, original work ..."
POWER OF THE CHURCH
The new film by Loach, who won the Palme d'Or in 2006 for "The Wind that Shakes the Barley" based on Ireland's 1922-23 civil war, returns to the rural Ireland of a decade later, when the divisions caused by the conflict are still raw.
Into this tinderbox steps Jimmy Gralton (Barry Ward), a little-known historical figure. He was a communist when there were only 100 in the entire country, bringing back to his native Ireland a set of views he developed in America during the Great Depression.
At first the once-popular Gralton, tries to stay aloof and live quietly with his widowed mother. But neighbors who had helped him build a now-abandoned dance hall prevail on him to reopen it - and teach them the swing dancing he has learned in America, with music played on a gramophone he has brought back.
This and other actions quickly bring Gralton and his supporters into conflict with the powerful Roman Catholic church and the local landlords. They lead to Gralton's becoming the only citizen of the Irish Republic to be deported from the country - for holding an American passport - without a hearing.
Screenwriter Paul Laverty said his portrayal of Father Sheridan (Jim Norton), who finds jazz to be the tool of the devil and denounces the communist Gralton from the pulpit, was more nuanced than his research had shown actual church leaders of the time to be.
"They were almost too crude and too vicious and to write someone like that it just wouldn't have been interesting."
Loach, known for his leftist views, said that if Gralton were alive "the ideas he fought for at the time, I think they're even more relevant today".
(Editing by Larry King)