Despite his past success at Cannes, 27 year-old director Xavier Dolan's sixth feature film premiere at the festival, It’s Only the End of the World fails astronomically. Shockingly, Dolan shared at a press conference Thursday that he considered it his best yet, though Dolan drowns the film’s potential in melodramatic theatrics, heavy-handed metaphors, and insufferable characters.
It’s Only the End of the World - adapted from Jean-Luc Lagarce’s 1990 play - introduces Louis (Gaspard Ullile), a gay playwright returning with an undetermined terminal illness to visit his family for the first time in 12 years. Through voice over, he explains in the most minimal detail his family history and his desire to maintain control of his life despite his insurmountable obstacle. Louis is received by his mother, Martine (Nathalie Baye), overbearing and decorated in matching bright cobalt blue eye shadow and nail polish, his youngest sister, Suzanne (Léa Seydoux), who just cries, his hot-tempered brother, Antoine (Vincent Cassel), who yells at everyone to shut up while only screaming himself, and Antoine’s irritatingly timid wife, Catherine (Marion Cotillard), who stutters through her lines.
The rest of the film is spent between screaming matches filled with useless dialogue and winded monologues and extremely close-up shots. Each character, obviously, lives within their own drama and anxieties, but the excessive shooting style overkills the message. So much of the film is in your face rather than subtly stated and interpreted losing its intrigue. The heated rows serve as the only conflict in the entire film, and the lack of character backstory or development leaves the audience questioning whether the “tension” presented is worthy of the intense hatred and immaturity.
The film takes place almost entirely in one location over the course of one day, which paired with its excessive dramatic dialogue and over the top characters, the film never separates from its stage play feel. Also, Dolan’s focus on the cuckoo clock as a metaphor for Louis’s time running out comes off painfully amateur and poorly executed. The theatrics of it all feel oppressive, forced, and unnecessary.
It's disappointing to see such a gifted cast of renowned actors wasted on a film that offers no depth or attention to its characters. Each performance feels stifled, only acting within the tight parameters of their characters. Cotillard as Catherine stutters as her lines get lost in translation, Seydoux as Suzanne breaks out in tears every scene despite the over emphasis on the lack of relationship between her character and Louis, Baye as Martine hovers and attempts to ignore the palpable tension, and Cassel as Antoine is unbearable as the explosive older brother. Cotillard, Seydoux, Baye and Cassel have all reached international acclaim and prove themselves time and time again, but they are robbed of an opportunity to shine in It’s Only the End of the World.
Gaspard Ullile, who also stars in another Cannes film, The Dancer, remains tight-lipped and relatively reserved except for the two instances we tap into Louis’s building nostalgia as he trudges closer and closer to death. The two dream-like and romanticized flashbacks paired with booming pop music create a slight depth to the complexity of the psychological effect the disease has on him. Their infrequency, however, makes it feel as if they were an after thought. This is unfortunate as they are the only redeeming parts of the film. The jumbled cinematographic details and flip flopping soundtrack seem erratic and unfocused as if Dolan was on crack during production and post-poduction (as he directed and edited the film) and decided to change aesthetic decisions every three minutes.
The dismissal of any and all homosexual themes from the original play weaken the films perspective. The play is written by a man who lived during the AIDS epidemic and later died of the disease himself in 1995. In Dolan’s film version, we get only brief moments of Louis’s former boyfriend, Pierre, once in a flashback and once more with the mention of his death later in the film. Dolan never alludes to the possibility of AIDS as the disease leading Louis to his death, a detail that would garner more sympathy from the audience. This blatant disregard for the play’s themes leaves the film’s focus simplistically placed only on a white man dealing with his dysfunctional family. How original.
After years of back to back successes at such an impressive age, Dolan finally fails. Now with a flop behind him, we can hope his next film, already in pre-production, won’t be as painful to sit through.