English Title: It’s Only the End of the World
Original Title: Juste la fin du monde
Country: Canada, France
Director/Writer: Xavier Dolan
based on play by Jean-Luc Lagarce
Music: Gabriel Yared
Cinematography: André Turpin
William Boyce Blanchette
Canne’s 2016 Grand Prize of the Jury winner, Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan’s sixth feature, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD is based on Jean-Luc Lagarce’s semi-autobiographical theatrical piece, and its closest reference within Dolan’s canon is TOM AT THE FARM (2013), adapted from Michel Marc Bouchard’s play, a throbbing drama predominately enclosed within a single household. And this time, Dolan goes even further, not only the story is almost exclusively locked inside a family house with five characters, the time-frame is also condensed just within a few hours (bar some sketchy flashback).
In the opening monologue, inside a plane, Louise (Ulliel), a 34-year-old writer, confesses his impending death (from an unspecified disease), and the destination of his trip, to visit his family which he has left 12 years old for the first time. At first, it seems Dolan expunges any signifiers of digital technology to avoid signposting a specific time for the story, it could happen well in early 90s when Lagarce wrote the play, or in current days, but when DRAGOSTEA DIN TEI merrily pops up, the effort dissipates immediately, yet, a more relevant distinction is the once-tabooed homosexuality has taken a back seat in the narrative (dissimilar to TOM AT THE FARM), instead, Dolan archly toys with his opening gambit: Louis is going to drop the bomb onto his kin, and god knows how they will react?
In the ensuing over-deliberate familial wrangle, this tantalizing question which is blatantly deployed as a trigger of viewers’ curiosity, has ultimately evaded the drama, what Dolan musters is a series of bromide-suffusing tête-à-têtes between Louis and his mother Martine (Baye), younger sister Suzanne (Seydoux), elder brother Antoine (Cassel) and Catherine (Cotillard), Antoine’s wife, the sister-in-law he has never met hitherto, and at other time, a cacophony of the usual suspects generates on its own, meanwhile Louis remains excruciatingly tight-lipped through and through. A gaunt-looking Gaspard Ulliel gives a commendable performance, straitjacketed in his diction, the character is solely built on affective miens and minute gestures which demands taxing physical effort to pad out the lacunae in Dolan’s meditative close-ups (Dolan really loves Ulliel’s model-contour and blues-imbued visage) and what’s more incredible is Ulliel instils a visceral pang of agony into Louis’ perturbed psyche in the face of a massively elliptical storyline.
Vincent Cassel, as ever so rebarbative in beastly aggro, gets an about-face display of bravura in the blistering altercation consummated near the finish-line, don’t judge the book by its cover, never, his Antoine is another victim in the aftermath. Léa Seydoux and Nathalie Baye, both send up impressive theatrics of trivial verbosity and rapier-like acrimony to an exuberant extent. Which leaves Marion Cotillard’s Catherine, being the only outsider in their bloodline, engages with a more discombobulated outlook in her timorous muttering and courteous self-consciousness, which is not a big stretch for the Oscar-winner, maybe that’s why Dolan compensates with overlong glamor gaze into Catherine’s dew-eyed comeliness (why will she marry a brute like Antoine, one cannot help wondering?), playing out tacitly with Louis’ soulful kindness.
We have only been granted sporadic glances into Louis’ past in between (in the form of Dolan’s emblematic slo-motion, moist and smoky grandeur), there is no buried secrets to be disinterred, no irreconcilable feud running in consanguinity, we have no idea neither what pushed Louis away from home years ago nor what has been keeping him from divulging his tidings now, yes, human emotions are sophisticated, but they are inherently follows certain logical pattern no matter who flimsy it could be, if it is Dolan’s intention to obfuscate and equivocate and leave us to pattern the jigsaw, he has done a splendid job.
Opening with Camille’s poignant HOME IS WHERE IT HURTS and rounding off with Moby’s nostalgia-infused NATURAL BLUES, Dolan’s latest offering is a tad shambolic in bootstrapping its central drama and overindulges in its artistic license which is dwarfed in front of TOM AT THE FARM or MOMMY (2014), but on the other hand, it doesn’t veers into narcissism and smugness as unbearable as in HEARTBEATS (2010), a middle-road residing might not be a bad thing to cool down Dolan’s hyped auteur-status, so we might be more poised for another incandescence along the line, inevitably.