Xavier Dolan has taken to Twitter to criticise Netflix UK for not streaming Mommy in the correct aspect ratio.
That might not sound like a big issue to some viewers, but those who have seen Mommy in its original format will be aware that the movie has been deliberately shot in a 1:1 square aspect ratio. This allows the screen to widen halfway through the film for a temporary period – something that carries huge emotional weight, not least because it’s soundtracked by the equally idiosyncratic choice of Wonderwall by Oasis.
But on Netflix UK – where the movie arrived on 21st December 2015 – that moment doesn’t happen, because the film remains in its 1:1 form throughout.
After viewers noticed this, some writing negative reviews on the streaming site pointing out the error, Dolan today wrote an open letter to Netflix UK, calling them out for the incorrect presentation.
“By forcing a permanent pillar-box on my movie, you’ve shut down the emotional of that scene, disregarded the narratively-crucial sentiment of social oppression elicited by this ratio and you’ve made the end credits look cropped,” he wrote.
“Who has bestowed on you the right to revise my choices, and how competently have you pondered the impact of such decision both on my film and the public?”
This is not the first time that Netflix has been criticised for its altered aspect ratios. Two years ago, a Tumblr called “What Netflix Does” revealed that the VOD giant was cropping widescreen films in what was effectively the old “pan and scan” technique: those filmed in Scope format (2:39:1), which is wider than the standard widescreen (1:85:1), were being shown in 1:78:1; in other words, Netflix’s version chopped off the sides of the frames so that the black letterbox bars at the top and bottom were hidden. As a result, films such as There Will Be Blood looked like this:
At the time, the company issued an official statement to the press, implying that they were not responsible for the cropping, but that it was down to the copy of the film they received from the films’ distributors.
“We do not crop,” said a spokesperson. “We want to offer the best picture and provide the original aspect ratio of any title on Netflix. However, unfortunately our quality controls sometimes fail and we end up offering the wrong version of a title. When we discover this error, we replace that title as soon as possible.”
It may simply be a case of misinterpretation on either parties’ part over Netflix’s technical requirements for 16:9 digital copies of titles – although, of course, with both parties being in the movie business, you would hope that would never happen.
For his part, Dolan said he can “hardly imagine that the domestic distributor of this film has given you such license without consulting me”. Indeed, Mommy’s UK distributor, Metrodome, has also provided a streaming copy to platforms such as Amazon Instant Video for purchase and rental. On Amazon, the title plays correctly, with the aspect ratio changing halfway through as intended.
Dolan suggested that Netflix UK might have made the alteration “to avoid any potential confusion by the viewers”. “Take it as is, or remove it,” he concluded. “People are cleverer than you think.”
He tweeted his open letter at 3.57pm. Netflix UK responded at 8.21pm to say they were “looking into this”. He thanked them for addressing the matter, adding:
At the time of this article’s publication, though, Mommy continues to be streamed by Netflix UK in the incorrect aspect ratio. (There Will Be Blood, on the other hand, which returned to Netflix UK’s library on 1st January 2016, is now streaming in the correct format.)
Update: 5th January
Xavier Dolan has announced that Mommy’s aspect ratio has been corrected by Netflix UK, with the problem attributed to a technical error.
Rest of article continues below as originally published
What have we learned from this? That even in 2016, for whatever reason, Netflix appears to have a recurring issue with aspect ratios. That Xavier Dolan doesn’t like people messing with his work. That he presumably does like Oasis. And that he also uses emojis. All of which only endear him – and his film, Mommy – to us further.
Mommy is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription. For more, read our review of the film here.