Review: It’s Only the End of the World

its-only-the-end-of-the-world

DIR/WRI: Xavier Dolan •  PRO: Sylvain Corbeil, Xavier Dolan, Nancy Grant, Elisha Karmitz, Nathanaël Karmitz, Michel Merkt, Vincent Cassel • DOP: André Turpin • ED: Xavier Dolan • DES: Colombe Raby • MUS: Gabriel Yared • CAST: Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard

With It’s Only the End of the World, Xavier Dolan took last year’s Cannes Film Festival by storm winning the Grand Prix award and the Ecumenical award and was nominated for the coveted Palme d’Or. But while Dolan’s previous film Mommy (2014) was hailed a masterpiece, somehow his follow-up, for me at least, doesn’t live up to that kind of hype. It’s not exactly surprising that the critical reaction so far has been mixed to say the least.

Dolan adapted the screenplay from a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce. It’s immediately apparent what drew Dolan to the material with its intricate weave of fractured family relationships. The story focuses on Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), an acclaimed gay playwright, who, in light of his terminal battle with aids, returns home after 12 years absence in order to tell his family. Dolan handles the subject matter expertly, understating the issue just enough to draw us into the enigma of Louis’ mysterious persona. Of course, little’s changed at home and Antoine (Vincent Cassel) almost immediately goes head to head with Louis.

Dolan’s cast is nothing short of exquisite with Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux, Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel and Gaspard Ulliel. Gaspard Ulliel gives a masterful performance as Louis, while Vincent Cassel’s Antoine channels his inner demons and rocks the boat. The beautiful Marion Cotillard is seamlessly perfect as always, she’s the only beating heart within the core of this dysfunctional family.

And with regard to his visual approach, Dolan largely restricts himself to one location and limits the framing, keeping it airtight. There’s no doubt this was a strategy to honour the theatrical nature of the piece and keep the power in the characters’ words and performances. And this approach also supports the claustrophobic fixed nature of the relationships. But by doing so without any significant visual change, it lacks a sense of visual progression, which inevitably makes the film feel slow and reduces the sense of character development dramatically. In Mike Nichols’ critically lauded adaptation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe he opened up the locations of the text. His motivation being that he found the locations in Edward Albee’s text too reductive for the audience, and it also wasn’t utilizing one of the major assets of the form, which is the ability for cinema to go anywhere. And that’s exactly what Dolan is missing here.

Most of the picture is conveyed through medium shots and close-ups, but the usage of these is so taxing and limited that they retain almost no power when the film needs them most. There are a few brief exceptions, such as the opening when Louis arrives, or when he goes for a drive with his paranoid brother Antoine. But none are really long enough to free the film up and give it the breath of fresh air it so vitally needs.

Michael Lee

99 minutes
15A See IFCO for details

It’s Only the End of the World is released 24th February 2017

It’s Only the End of the World – Official Website

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Mommy

mommy-3

DIR/WRI: Xavier Dolan •  PRO: Xavier Dolan, Nancy Grant • DOP: André Turpin • ED: Xavier Dolan • MUS: Noia • DES: Alec Hammond • CAST: Anne Dorval, Antoine-Olivier Pilon, Suzanne Clément, Patrick Huard

We all know the well-trodden Philip Larkin line, ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad’, but what about the reverse? Mommy, Xavier Dolan’s fifth feature film, holds this question at its heart. The story is simple. A working, widowed mother, Diane ‘Die’ Després (Anne Dorval), re-takes custody of her fifteen-year old ADHD son, Steven (Antoine-Olivier Pilon), to save him from being committed to juvenile detention after he set fire to the cafeteria in the institution where he’d been since the death of his father three years previous. Their relationship is fractious, and a new, stuttering neighbour, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), soon finds herself in between mother and son.

The most immediately striking element of the film is its aspect ratio: 1:1 – a perfect square. It’s hard not to think of Instagram when you see this, and the film includes a selfie at one point which suggests it was in the back of Dolan’s mind too. But it’s worth thinking about why Instagram is so popular, and why it limits users to a square frame. The app replicates the visuals of older Polaroid and Super-8 cameras, cheap, widely-available products which helped generations of families document their own lives, often for the first time. The app is used for much the same thing; it is a remarkably personal, domestic environment. Mommy is, essentially, a very beautiful, expertly directed, high-budget home movie and the aspect ratio echoes this, reinforcing the kind of intimacy – for better and for worse – that you can only get inside a family home.

Dolan has talked about how the limited frame makes the camera focus on the faces of the characters, often only one at a time, and this vital to the the empathy the film generates. Almost every shot feels like a portrait, and when there is more than one character in shot, they are physically close together. It is often uncomfortable – why Kyla pins Steven to the floor, when Steven puts his hand around Die’s throat – but sometimes it’s just beautiful to witness the emotional coming together of these people. When the frame expands, just twice, to fill the full width of the screen, it allows moments of real openness, real expression and vulnerability, to take place.

One thing which separates Dolan from many filmmakers, particularly young filmmakers, is his ability to linger in moments of happiness, his love for watching people have these fleeting, joyous experiences. When Die and Kyla sit out on the porch long into the darkening evening, Dolan seems to want to drink in their laughter, knowing it will pass all too soon. When the three are dancing in the kitchen, there is no ironic detachment from the Celine Dion track that’s playing – rather, like all the music in the film – it’s the most mundane and over-saturated popular culture made to breathe again through unashamed joy. It should be cheesy, it is cheesy, but the characters are experiencing these things as part of their lives. It could be any song, but this is what’s popular, this is what you heard in the car as a kid, this is what’s stupid, annoying and overplayed but still you love it.

The nature of this love, love you can’t let go of, which makes no sense but which is vital all the same, is what holds the people in Mommy together. Die and Steven strain away from one another, unsure of themselves and of each other, and the constant tension between them is what drives the film to excavate the depths of anger, pain, betrayal, shame and love. Kyla’s mysterious and cold relationship with her own family is contrasted with the fire and intensity of what happens in the house across the street. Her own insecurity, her very unlikely presence and entirely unexplained history, only adds to the near-constant sense of unease, the feeling that it could all come crashing down in a minute.

In the end, the film is also about what to do when love is not enough. How do you go on when you cannot cope, when nothing you do is enough? What are the alternatives, and how do you live with them? Where do you find hope? There’s a complex, even unresolvable, set of issues at stake in Mommy, but because both Dolan and the actors bring the same heightened intensity to the full spectrum of emotions, tensions, secrets and failures of family life, there is no need for answers. There is no need for blame. Instead, we just sit with them a while, and watch, and learn, and feel.

Ian Maleney


139 minutes

Mommy is released 20th March 2015

Mommy – Official Website

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Cinema Review: Tom At The Farm

Tom-At-The-Farm

DIR/WRI: Xavier Dolan  • PRO: Xavier Dolan, Charles Gillibert, Nathanaël Karmitz • DOP: André Turpin • ED: Xavier Dolan • MUS: Gabriel Yared • CAST: Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy

Early reviews from Tom At The Farm suggest that the film marks Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan venturing into properly ‘genre’ territory for the first time. However, while the film does utilise – and subvert – the tropes of a standard thriller, it so constantly sidesteps convention and audience expectation that any formal generic classification proves woefully inadequate.

After retreating exclusively behind the camera for his last film – the epic transgender relationship study Laurence Anyways – Dolan opts to take the lead role of Tom here. The story, adapted from a play of the same name by Michel Marc Bouchard, has Tom travel to his lover Guillaume’s funeral somewhere in rural Quebec. It transpires that the deceased’s mother, Agathe (Lise Roy), had no idea her son was gay. Tom is told in no uncertain terms to keep the secret, well, secret by Guillaume’s violent, quite possibly unhinged brother Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal). Initially intending to leave immediately, Tom finds himself increasingly fascinated by Agathe and particularly Francis, and opts to stick around. But as the lies pile on top of each other, it’s uncertain if secrets can stay hidden.

Homosexuality has been a key theme of Dolan’s films to date, and it’s central to Tom at the Farm’s drama. Initially Francis seems like your standard bigot, disgusted at his brother’s sexuality and committed to keeping it secret at whatever cost (especially if that cost is some sort of serious assault). However, as the film progresses a sort of masochistic homoerotic tension begins to develop between Francis and Tom. It’s a strange sort of relationship to witness, and leads to scenes playing out in ways the audience is unlikely to expect or predict. At its best, the film manages to paint Francis as an angry, self-destructive enigma, and captures Tom’s journey of self-discovery, as well as his potentially dangerous curiosity about his dead boyfriend’s unstable brother. There’s a few welcome narrative curveballs thrown into the mix, such as an ever-escalating attempt to persuade Agathe that Guillaume actually had a girlfriend.

Unfortunately, all this can also stretch credibility. It’s hard to get a firm grasp on any of the characters, who seem borderline schizophrenic at times. Occasionally it can be quite potently ambiguous (details of the characters’ backstories, for example, are doled out in a nicely controlled fashion), but a lot of the time it can be pretty frustrating as these people act in illogical, maybe even contradictory ways without much coherent rhyme or reason. There’s lots of room here for viewers to read into subtleties and hints – there’s a purposeful lack of concrete answers – but it’s sometimes worth asking how effective that ambiguity is: the ending particularly will annoy the hell out of anyone seeking something more definitive. Although some of the themes are clearly very personal to Dolan, it’s a film that feels somewhat cold and clinical overall.

Dolan can’t resist filming this in an impressively vibrant way – significantly pared back from the proudly indulgent Laurence Anyways, but still immaculately composed. That includes the finest aerial shot of Canadian farmland you’re likely to see in the foreseeable future. While Dolan constantly sidesteps predictable drama, there are a number of traditionally ‘thriller’ scenes – a fight, a threat or a chase here and there. Interestingly, Dolan chooses to explicitly utilise the aesthetics of genre cinema for these moments. The aspect ratio dynamically narrows, the lighting becomes more explicitly stylised, and the soundtrack bursts to life with the sound of excited strings. It’s an interesting and largely effective directorial choice, although most notably serves to highlight how the narrative steadfastly refuses to conform to convention despite seemingly borrowing some familiar tools. That playful adaptation of genre norms is to be celebrated, although ultimately the film is a strange mix of curious experimentation and frustrating elusiveness.

Stephen McNeice

105 mins

Tom At The Farm is released on 4th April 2014

Tom At The Farm – Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nO6PPKYpwPA

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Heartbeats

Heartbeats

DIR/WRI: Xavier Dolan • PRO: Xavier Dolan, Carole Mondello, Daniel Morin • DOP: Stéphanie Anne Weber Biron • Cast: Xavier Dolan, Monia Chokri and Niels Schneider

Heartbeats‘  director Xavier Dolan is proving himself to be quite the prodigy. After winning over critics and audiences with his filmmaking debut J’ai tué ma mère a couple of years ago, the 22-year-old Canadian actor-turned-director returns with an engaging, if somewhat shallow, tale of friendship, jealousy and sexual tension.

Heartbeats
sets itself in the midst of a love triangle in which old friends Francis (Dolan) and Marie (superbly played by Monia Chokri) become involved in a battle to win the attention of the Adonis-like Nicolas (Niels Scheider) who enters their lives. There’s no real surprises here and the audience is never under any illusions of what is unfolding, but the candy coloured coating makes for a tasty enough treat.

Director Dolan is not afraid to flaunt the technical aspects of filmmaking and constructs hyper stylised scenes that employ OTT-coloured lighting, hypnotic slow motion and lingering close-ups alongside overstated manipulation of moods and explicit poetic imagery.

Dolan’s stylistic approach with a camera is matched by his use of music as he puts together a collection of uplifting (annoying)  Euro-pop tracks that sit alongside the melancholia of Bach and Wagner reflecting the film’s twin obsession with the importance of friendship and the unattainability of desire.

Heartbeats is a fresh energetic piece of filmmaking that promises much for the future of its young writer/director.

Steven Galvin

Rated 16 (see IFCO websitefor details)
Heartbeats is released on 27th May 2011

Heartbeats – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6gCPIof4kNQ

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