It's only the end of the world - Cannes Film Festival 2016 Review
The extraordinarily young director Xavier Dolan (he’s 27) returns to Cannes with his latest feature film It’s only the end of the world, an adaptation of a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce. The film, while not without a few flaws, is an exceptional achievement.
The story follows Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a successful playwright, as he visits his family for the first time in twelve years. He’s come to announce his illness and death.
Dolan’s film doesn't really depart from its original text - in terms of story and dialogue, it feels much like a filmed theatrical production. As such, its lines are lyrical, poetical, and often feel unnatural. Yet, paradoxically, Lagarce was well known for giving his characters a sense of realism. And so, while the film very much comes across as a play (and feels artificial as such) several scenes (especially ones where the family as a whole fight) are wholly realistic. The film thus alternates between the forcefully real and the beautifully fake.
Many of the group scenes verge on the hysterical, though their illustration of repeating, frustrating, family dynamics feel painfully real. Dolan also captures Louis’ sense of alienation movingly. Everyone upbraids him, in their own way, for having disappeared - yet no one asks much about his life, projecting instead their fears of rejection and their own hopes on his presence. Yet, the extent of the family's obsession with this absent son/brother is a little odd, and perhaps not entirely credible.
Dolan seems to have a knack for eliciting excellent work out of his actors. Baye, as the needy, manipulative mother and Vincent Cassel, here both raging and repressed, deliver transformative performances. To anyone already familiar with their work, they are barely recognisable. Marion Cotillard and Léa Seydoux are typically excellent actors, and here Dolan draws the very best out of them. Cotillard is perfect as the hesitant, sweet, yet incredibly perceptive Catherine while Seydoux pitches her angsty, insecure Suzanne flawlessly.
The film's direction and photography are superb. Almost everything is shot in claustrophobic close-ups, often bathed either in darkness or golden light; there are also stirring melancholic, idyllic blurred flashbacks set to a loud, techno soundtrack.
The ending is, however, somewhat disappointing. it would have worked better with a quieter, subtler close, rather than the mad cacophony served instead. As a result, it isn't clear what what the audience is meant to draw out of these last moments. The last shot comes across as a little pretentious.
Otherwise, Dolan’s film is a powerful vignette of the difficulty of family life; at times painful to watch, but really magnificently executed (if you're happy to accept its theatrical format).