Director: Xavier Dolan
Screenplay: Xavier Dolan
Starring: Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux, Gaspard Ulliel
Runtime: 99 Minutes
Xavier Dolan is a unique specimen of French Canadian descent, who by the point of his mid-20s had garnered a reputation as one of the most exciting and visceral talents in world cinema. Though not for everyone, his films operate on a visual level of constant arrest and boldness of thought in touch with the human condition – much of which appears to stem from his own personal experiences.
It's Only the End of the World is his sixth feature, but feels destined to become recognised as one of his lesser, or most underestimated works. That is to say nothing of the tremendous quality of his artistic ability, but rather coming down from the thunderous accomplishment that was Mommy, it feels like an opportunity of lesser risk and ambition, but still remarkable in process.
Loosely adapted from Jean-Luc Lagarce’s more abstract play of the same name, Dolan’s screenplay tries to find a more familiar grounding for the medium through restructure and diligence and for the most part succeeds. Every member of the family unit is given their moment of solace with the dying Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), pulled away from the bustle of conversation to try and engage in an attempt to rebuild bridges that have since burned to the ground and washed down the river.
His relationships vary in degrees of alienation; his sister Suzanna (Léa Seydoux) wants the brother she never had while she supports their demanding and elsewhere mother (Nathalie Baye), while older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel) appears to harbour a deep-seated rage condescension for anyone and everyone, including wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard) who appears the outsider to Louis despite being a part of the family for years. All the while Louis is clearly struggling to find the moment to reveal to them the tragic circumstances of his reappearance, and his lack of association with them has bore a resentment that no one is really willing to allow overcome what should be a day of reconnection.
Much like Mommy, Dolan focuses his attention on the enclosure of the environment, shooting mostly in either close-up or apparently compact spaces. André Turpin’s photography is stunning, and his and Dolan find a way of honing in on the physicality of memory, the importance of Louis’s desperate journey of nostalgia, memory and the importance of wasted time and opportunity that applies to the whole family.
What the film appears to lack is a true sense of identity or rationale beyond the wrath of the melodrama. It lends itself to softer moments but its introspection feels like something that’s merely surface level. But then, the characters are somewhat shallow enough to see this as all they need, but there’s a depth lacking that leaves a bit of a void where memory and affect should stand.
It’s the performances that really captivate and wield emotional power, and hold notice when the pace begins to vanish, with a restrained Cotillard, a scenery smashing Cassel and a brilliantly broken and irate Seydoux – while Ulliel does channel much of the alienation and distance well, he comes across as the least interesting presence.
It’s the filmmaking that works the hardest though, and Dolan’s signature uses of photography, editing and bombastic musical choices are entrancing. It might be too overwhelmingly pessimistic and emotionally sore for many people, but it’s still a Xavier Dolan film – and for some that could be enough.