VOD film review: It’s Only the End of the World
Sense of purpose4
Josh Slater-Williams | On 24, Feb 2017
Director: Xavier Dolan
Cast: Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux
The sixth film in just eight years from 27-year-old Xavier Dolan, It’s Only the End of the World sees the Quebecois director work with his most impressive array of performers yet – an assortment of some of France’s most beloved established and rising stars.
That’s not to say that previous collaborators such as Melvil Poupaud (Laurence Anyways) are lacking in international star power, but packing Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux and Gaspard Ulliel all in the same film has a certain allure. It’s interesting, and disappointing, then, that this collaboration between wunderkind and acting royalty should end up resulting in the filmmaker’s least satisfying film to date.
It’s not as though the movie, about a 30-something man returning home, after a decade-plus absence, to try telling his family he’s dying, is an extreme outlier in his filmography – bar two notable exceptions. The first is that, even taking into account Tom at the Farm (also based on a play), this is the closest thing to a chamber drama that Dolan has made, restricting events to this one property, except for a brief car trip for two players and Louis’ (Ulliel) trip from the airport. The second is that Dolan’s films usually hinge on very intense relationships between two or three people – think the central trios of Mommy and Heartbeats, or the main couple of Laurence Anyways. With It’s Only the End of the World, there is more of an ensemble dynamic thanks to a much larger principal cast.
Otherwise, a lot of Dolan’s signature traits remain intact, although some are comparatively muted. His flair for pop music dominating key scenes is evident in two instances of real note, one of which leads directly into the end credits, with somewhat distracting songs like blink-182’s I Miss You left to low-volume radio play in the background of tense conversation scenes.
What’s definitely not muted here is the director’s penchant for very loud expressions of emotional strife, which fuel a big part of why It’s Only the End of the World doesn’t work nearly as well as Dolan’s other work. Confined to a single day, the plot isn’t so much a ticking time bomb where initial niceties eventually break down into an emotionally cathartic screaming match. Here, the screaming matches start pretty much as soon as Louis enters the house, even if he abstains from raising his voice.
Things only get louder, but without anything resembling a step back from the shrillness and bellowing, it’s hard to get any perspective of who these people actually are – this isn’t helped by Dolan and cinematographer André Turpin shooting most of the film in claustrophobic close-up. Each character is almost solely defined by the surface anxieties they loudly project that drive the others away, be it vocally, or, in the case of Marion Cotillard’s socially awkward character, more physical suggestions of discomfort.
The hollow histrionics certainly convey the irritation of familial meltdown in a palpable fashion, but with so few dimensions to these characters, the reopened wounds and reconciliations don’t land with any of the emotional heft they’re presumably meant to have. It’s all empty tears and fears; a meltdown movie that’s more cold than heated.