​Seven Unforgettable Moms in Canadian Films

By Carol Neshevich ● May 03, 2016 10:30

Mothers in Canadian films have rarely been the simple, two-dimensional, apple-pie-baking sort. Whether they’re selfless, selfish, strong or struggling, the “mom” characters in Canada’s movies are anything but dull. As Mother’s Day approaches, take some time to celebrate by checking out these unforgettable mothers in Canadian cinema.

Chantale in I Killed My Mother (J’ai Tué Ma Mère)

Made in 2009, Montreal director Xavier Dolan’s debut feature is considered a “semi-autobiographical” film about a homosexual teen’s stormy relationship with his mother Chantale (played by Anne Dorval). Dolan, only 20 years old when the film was released, also stars in the film as the lead, Hubert. The movie centres on Hubert’s love/hate relationship with his single mom, Chantale, who laments how her son, who used to tell her everything, now criticizes her for everything. The good news is that the turbulent teen doesn’t actually kill his mom, as much as he might feel like it at times.

Diane in Mommy

In 2014, five years after Xavier Dolan’s debut I Killed My Mother (J’ai Tué Ma Mère) hit theatres, Dolan came out with another mother-focused film called Mommy. This film again stars actress Anne Dorval as a single mom, but this time she plays a widow named Diane who is struggling to raise her highly troubled teenage son Steve (played by Antoine Olivier Pilon). The 2014 Cannes Festival Jury Prize-winning film was considered by many critics to be a more nuanced look at the mother-son relationship. As a review in Variety put it, “whereas Dolan’s debut was fuelled by pent-up resentment the director obviously needed to get out of his system, Mommy demonstrates a newfound appreciation for just how much his mother put up with.”

Catherine in Margaret’s Museum

Set in Glace Bay, N.S., in the 1940s, the 1995 Canada/UK co-production, Margaret’s Museum, is a quirky tale of tragedy, madness and resilience. While the story focuses on Margaret (played by Helena Bonham Carter) and her romance with Neil (Clive Russell), Margaret’s mother Catherine (Kate Nelligan) stands out as Margaret’s witty yet bitter mother whose dark outlook on life was shaped by the loss of her son and husband in coal mining accidents. While Catherine’s negativity clouds most of her interactions with Margaret, she has her occasional moments of goodness; as critic Roger Ebert pointed out in his review of the film, “Nelligan is astounding in the way she allows her humanity to peek out from behind the mother's harsh defenses.”

Mummy-ji in Bollywood/Hollywood

In the 2002 film Bollywood/Hollywood, directed by Deepa Mehta, the demands of the main character’s mother are what really get the plot rolling in this fun romantic comedy. After a young Indo-Canadian businessman Rahul (played by Rahul Khanna) loses his white girlfriend in a freak accident, his mother “Mummy-ji” (Moushumi Chatterjee) issues him an ultimatum: he needs to find a nice Indian girl to marry, or she won’t let Rahul’s sister’s upcoming wedding go ahead. Since Rahul knows his sister is secretly pregnant, there’s an added urgency in finding himself an Indian bride. Hijinks ensue, involving actress Lisa Ray as a call girl and a handful of fun Bollywood-inspired musical numbers.

Marion in The Year Dolly Parton was My Mom

In this 2011 film by Montreal writer/director Tara Johns, set in the 1970s-era Canadian Prairies, 11-year-old Elizabeth discovers she is adopted and somehow gets it into her head that Dolly Parton is her biological mom. Determined to track down the famous country singer, Elizabeth hops on her bike and tries to make the trek to Minneapolis where Dolly is scheduled to perform. Her adoptive mother Marion (played by Macha Grenon) – who is very overprotective, sort a of helicopter mom before it was the trend – heads out to find her, and slowly learns to become less neurotic and more truthful in the process.

Jacqueline in Café de Flore

Directed and written by Jean-Marc Vallée, 2011’s Café de Flore tells two separate but somehow ethereally intertwined love stories – one between a man and a woman in modern-day Montreal, and the other between a mother and her son in 1960s Paris. That mother is Jacqueline (played by Vanessa Paradis), and her young son, Laurent, has Down syndrome. As a single mother, she obsessively devotes herself to Laurent’s care and education, and has a difficult time when he forms a strong bond with a young girl in his class who also has Down syndrome.

Joy in Room

Actress Brie Larson took home the best actress Oscar for her role as Joy ("Ma") in Room, a 2015 Canada/Ireland co-production that illustrates the exceptional depth and power of a mother’s love as she shields her child from the reality of their horrific situation. Kidnapped and impregnated by the brutal “Old Nick,” Joy and her son Jack are held captive in a tiny room for years – and that room is all that five-year-old Jack has ever known. The nurturing mom does her best to create a whole lovely universe for Jack in that small room, and when they finally escape, they both struggle immensely to adapt to the “real world.”