Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) returns home after twelve years absence to reconnect with his family; Mother (Nathalie Baye), older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel), Antoine’s wife (Marion Cotillard) and younger sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux). His sudden arrival, leaves a question smouldering; why?
It’s Only the End of the World is a much more restrained dramatic approach than we’ve become accustomed to from recent Dolan. Mommy‘s subtle sci-fi origins and volatile energy left you in a constant state of unease before tearing you down. Tom at the Farm‘s Hitchcock-style, ‘Stockholm syndrome’ thriller of a man who is trapped by his deceased partner’s family wound you so tight that you felt that you were going to tear apart. It’s Only the End of the World introduces us to a sickly and damp Louis, silently suffering from some unknown ailment, making a trip back to the family he’s essentially abandoned for reconciliation. There’s an element of Hitchcock’s lesson of suspense here, showing that the usually striking Ulliel with a pallid complexion may be on the precipice of death, and that this visit is goodbye.
Dolan makes the most of the troupe of accomplished and lauded performers interacting here. Cotillard, Seydoux, Baye and finally Cassel all pick up their racquets and play dialogue squash off of Ulliel’s still and tempered Louis. Cassel’s Antoine makes interactions as uneasy as sprinting through a minefield. Seydoux’s Suzanne reeks of A desperation to be rescued by her brother Louis and brought into the glamorous life she imagines the lives. Baye is much more wily than her meandering reminiscing imparts. Ulliel is a canvas for the other characters to craft their vision of Louis. It’s only the stuttering and mild mannered performance of Cotillard as Catherine that loosens his tether on his emotions. The performances are presented to the audience on a platter and the timing of the film unfolds in what IS only slightly accelerated real time.
You don’t realise that it’s a far more passive experience than films like Mommy or Tom at the Farm until you feel the defibrillator to your chest during two incredible flashbacks. One is a beautiful look at a young Louis being hoisted onto Antoine’s shoulders running through a sunny glade. The endless and vibrant blue sky makes their future and connection seem boundless, despite what we’ve learned to the contrary. The second comes as Louis revisits his past possessions and gets lost in a memory of a sexual encounter that induces about thirty minutes on the treadmill worth of sweat in about two minutes screen time. That’s not to say that Dolan’s lost his touch in any way in the other parts of the film. From even the opening moments of the film as Gaspard Ulliel’s Louis is making his way from the airport to his family home, you’re being spoilt with Dolan’s meticulous vision. As the cab winds through the roads in the background of the frame, two balloons ascend together on a daring vertical escape from their owner. Now with a car streaming along the road, you have to ask, is the young filmmaker that fortuitous or that meticulous? Either way, there’s magic in the minor in a Dolan film.
27 year old, Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan is undeniably a wunderkind. He’s flexing a different set of muscles with It’s Only the End of The World. Those wanting to boo need not apply.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Written by: Xavier Dolan (based on play by Jean-Luc Lagarce)
Starring: Nathalie Baye, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux, Gaspard Ulliel,
Nathalie Baye … Mother
Vincent Cassel … Antoine
Marion Cotillard … Catherine
Léa Seydoux … Suzanne
Gaspard Ulliel … Louis