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.
15A See IFCO for details
It’s Only the End of the World is released 24th February 2017