It's Only the End of the World
Starring Gaspard Ulliel, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, Nathalie Baye
Having somehow unintentionally evaded 29-year-old Xavier Dolan’s previous acclaimed four films (he is already an 8 time Cannes award winner, and twice nominated for The Palm d’Or); Nothing can prepare the viewer for his latest It’s Only the End of the World. One of the nine finalists in consideration for the Academy Awards Foreign Film, this family drama hits similar chords and themes to August Osage County. However, Dolan adapting Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play, is a more visceral experience. It’s devastatingly personal, leaving viewers open to its underplayed themes of loss and regret emotionally wrecked. Ulliel (Hannibal Rising), Seydoux (Spectre), and Cassel (Jason Bourne) all do the best work of their careers. Cotillard, additional brilliant, playing a stuttering, unsure role unlike anything we’ve seen from her. Dolan uses consistent close-up here in a way that’s invasive, yet entirely suitable for the intimate feelings portrayed by the characters in conversation. It’s often his close-up technique, even when characters are not speaking, that arouse the greatest emotion.
Louis (Ulliel) is traveling home for the first time in twelve years. He returns to a place of emotional pain and intentional separation, to spend time with his family and discuss time itself. He’s greeted at the front door by baby sister Suzanne (Seydoux), who barely remembers him. His sister-in-law Catherine (Cotillard), whom he’s never met, and his older brother Antoine (Cassel), barely uttering “hello”. Louis kisses his mother (Baye) as she dries sparkly blue fingernail polish at the front door. They begin with snacks and arguments, as Catherine talks about her children, one is named after Louis. Antoine barks at his wife that Louis doesn’t care of their small life, being such a famous playwright in the city. Suzanne and Antoine scream at each other, as their feelings of abandonment by Louis begin to seep out. Catherine witnesses a side to this family she has never seen. Louis yearns explain the real reason for his brief return, but can’t find the right time or the right words.
It’s devastatingly personal, leaving viewers open to its underplayed themes of loss and regret emotionally wrecked.
From Dolan’s opening sequence, using American pop-music, he energizes the film with songs, score and editing that sustain a certain pace throughout the swift running time. There are moments where characters stare at each other (again in extreme close-up), as if deep into one another souls. The accompanying score becomes so overpowering in scenes, it’s almost difficult to watch, adding to this masterfully choreographed impending sense of disintegration. The editing in conversations is strikingly brilliant, sharp cuts back and forth, as characters use paralyzing words, talking around Louis, who is rarely afforded the opportunity to speak. Dolan’s screenplay keeps the viewer in a constant state of suspense contemplating exactly what Louis will divulge and how. While Catherine rants about her children, Suzanne about the importance of her brother’s postcards, Antoine spouts resentment, and his Mother reinforces her love; Louis witnesses and understands the pain his absence has caused.
Dolan considers this is best work, I consider it the best film I have seen in 2017 as of April. For a film with large amount of dialogue, yet holding so much close to the chest, it’s a curious experience that requires investment from the audience. I found the summer heat and the family dysfunction similar to August Osage County, yet the style and presentation is entirely different. Following one of the quietest scenes where Louis is finally alone with his mother, and a handful of helpful, not to mention beautiful flashbacks, we begin to understand pieces of our main character’s disposition. Ulliel’s stunningly evocative glistening eyes are a tunnel into everything he can’t express with words. The climax brings us back to the doorway where we began, equivalent to the ‘Osage’ dinner scene, yet here it’s played with impassioned sorrow. Dolan explained following that scene, he, the technicians, all burst into tears because “it was so emotional, because it was so touching and so very, very intense.” It’s Only the End of the World isn’t a film you walk away from unscathed, that’s its power, to provoke consciousness.
Filmmaker Xavier Dolan has created a subtle yet emotionally reflective film with a brilliant cluster of actors doing their finest work.