Xavier Dolan triumphs in row with Netflix UK over his film's aspect ratio | Film | The Guardian
Streaming company restores unusual format of Mommy, the director’s Cannes prize-winning drama, after he writes furious open letter

UK has backed down in a row with the celebrated Canadian film-maker Xavier Dolan over the screening format of his Cannes prize-winning drama Mommy.

In a tweet on Monday, Dolan accused the streaming service of misrepresentation after it altered Mommy’s unusual 1:1 aspect ratio for Netflix viewers. In an open letter, the 26-year-old director argued passionately that only he should have the right to change what he described as the “narratively crucial sentiment” of the screening format.

“Who has bestowed on you the right to revise my choices?” he wrote. “And how competently have you pondered the impact of such decisions on my film and the public? ... You did not direct this movie. You did not write this movie. You did not produce this movie. So can anyone or anything except me warrant the liberty you took upon my work? No.”

Mommy, which won the jury prize at the 2014 Cannes film festival, centres on a widowed suburban mother struggling to raise her troubled teenage son who finds help in the form of a neighbour with her own problematic past. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw described the impact of the film’s unorthodox aspect ratio in his five-star review of the drama in March.

“One of the strangest things about this is the aspect ratio: the shape of the screen,” he wrote. “It is in the ‘portrait’ style of a selfie taken on an upright mobile phone … The screen shows their restricted horizons and reflects the drama’s compressed emotional power: a painful squeezing. There’s a faint hint of straitjacket in that shape, a resemblance that will make more sense later. The screen widens out at happier moments, yet both times I’ve watched this film I haven’t noticed it happening until afterwards.”

Dolan said Netflix’s decision to edit the picture to create a “permanent pillar box” aspect ratio had “shut down the emotional capacity” of a key scene. He later tweeted to thank the streaming service for restoring Mommy to its original format.

Netflix UK replied to Dolan’s initial tweet and Mommy appears to have been restored to its correct aspect ratio within hours of the original complaint.