Xavier Dolan’s family drama is a battle between mother and son, shot in a claustrophobic square format. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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A symphony of shouts, shot in a square format that makes every scene feel trapped in a cell, Xavier Dolan’s “Mommy” is like nothing else in theaters right now. That’s not necessarily a recommendation; the movie’s overlong, underpopulated and often devastating to watch. But it’s told with an uncanny realism, and when it’s over you feel shaken and a little sick — and realize that you can finally exhale.

Diane (Anne Dorval), swaggering and mouthy, is the widowed mother of an out-of-control, 15-year-old named Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon) with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. They live, we’re told, in a fictional version of Canada, where parents are allowed to have their children committed to institutions. At the beginning, Diane visits a detention center to bring Steve home; he was, the staff tells her, uncontrollable. A blond ball of anger (and an old-looking 15), Steve is violent, threatening, wildly unpredictable — and, at times, gentle and loving. He’s seeking sensation; at one point, he whirls in a shopping cart in a parking lot, letting himself become caught up in the dizzying motion. As the film progresses, Diane and Steve face off repeatedly — both give as good as they get — and draw into their wake quiet Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a neighbor traumatized by some previous tragedy.

Dolan’s camera, close-in and jittery, captures the torrid seas of this family’s days; it’s as if we’ve moved in with them, steeling ourselves for something terrible that’s sure to come. But there are also moments, however brief, of respite: an impromptu dance party, for example, is all the more touching for being such a fleeting bit of joy. Near the end, Diane imagines an alternate life for her son — a graduation, a girlfriend, a happy departure for college — and it’s heartbreaking. This mother and son are trapped in a hellish boat together, unable to see the shore.

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Mommy,’ with Anne Dorval, Suzanne Clément, Antoine Olivier Pilon. Written and directed by Xavier Dolan. 140 minutes. Rated R for language throughout, sexual references and some violence. In French, with English subtitles. Guild 45th.