Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only The End Of The World is an intense, melodramatic family drama around the lunch table.
Homecomingby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only The End Of The World is a vision of hell as other people. After twelve years’ absence in Paris, 34-year-old successful playwright Louis returns to see his family in the French countryside, intending to tell them he is dying of an AIDS-related illness. His voiceover on the plane journey there confesses that he’s fearful but wants to be the master of his life – though he’s sceptical that he will be able to achieve it by seeing them. But this apparently simple act of returning, instead of bringing the reconciliation and closure he may have envisaged, unleashes his family’s years of resentment at the distance he put between them and an outpouring of the emotions that may have driven him away in the first place.
It’s a starry French cast. Gaspard Ulliel’s Louis is sensitive, he listens quietly to everyone talking at him and in the end says little. Perhaps he realises that after all there is nothing he can say. Nathalie Baye is his over-the-top widowed mother, desperate to have her prodigal son back and keep all her family close to her. Léa Seydoux is Suzanne, his ‘pothead’ younger sister who was too young to know him when he left home, now longing to get to know him at last. She has kept all his postcards – the only way he communicated with them since he left. Vincent Cassel is his aggressive, unsympathetic brother, Antoine, who seems to violently resent him. Catherine, played by Marion Cotillard, is the wife Antoine dominates, the only outsider present at the close family lunch, but also the only person with whom Louis is able to make a connection during the day.
As the three courses of the extended Sunday lunch are prepared and eaten, the family bickers constantly among themselves; unrestrained anger breaks out often and noisily. As Antoine takes Louis to see their old house, a symbol of what he left behind – his mother having moved to the current house since he last lived with her there – he an explodes with vituperative mockery at Louis.
For most of the film, Canadian Dolan brings his camera tight in for extreme closeups on the characters’ faces. The camera holds frames in slow motion, slow pans and background music soars at emotional moments. It’s stunning, stylised and intense, conveying the characters’ histories, their memories, sadness and maybe love. The image of a bird that has killed itself by flying into a window sums up the success or otherwise of Louis’s journey. Ulliel creates an involving central character but the repetitive shouting is at times excessive and the film betrays its stage origins – it’s based on the play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, who was recognised as one of France’s foremost modern playwrights only after his untimely death from an AIDS-related illness in 1995.
It’s Only The End Of The World won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, screened at the 60th BFI London Film Festival and is released on 24 February 2017 in the UK.