Jack Toye of the Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge writes about Xavier Dolan’s sixth film It’s Only The End Of The World. The film previews this Sunday as part of our Club Ciné strand, showcasing the best of French Cinema at Picturehouse Central.
In Xavier Dolan’s latest feature, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a thirty-something writer, returns to his parental home after a twelve-year absence. His life has been all about work up until this point, leaving little time for his family. But Louis has a message to tell them today: he is terminally ill with AIDS. Getting this message across is going to be a challenge though. Across the day he must also mend broken psychological bonds with a jealous older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassell), establish a relationship with a younger sister he has never known, Suzanne (Léa Seydoux), and open up emotionally to a mother with whom he has only corresponded via sparse postcard messages these past years.
It’s Only The End Of The World is set “somewhere, a while ago already.” The characters use mobile phones and dress in modern clothing but the soundtrack is reassuringly Dolan-esque and nostalgic, an eclectic mix of contemporary and classic tracks which sit perfectly over the events unfolding on screen. A relatively new track from Grimes plays as Louis glimpses inside his former bedroom in the basement of the house where he spent his formative teenage years. The camera teases us into the room in a slow motion zoom, using the doorway as a frame. Dolan loves doorways and window frames to help compose the action on screen. As the track increases in volume, the zoom and audio lead us further into Louis’ thoughts. Indeed, this is a very introspective feature; perhaps Dolan’s most reflective and sombre to date, it certainly feels very personal. That melancholy tone also comes from an original score by Gabriel Yared, whose swelling strings complement the tense verbal exchanges between Louis and his family.
Similarities to previous films from Dolan can be found in the lack of a paternal figure, or rather a focus on everyone but the father figure. A notable difference is that the script this time is an adaptation of the stage play of the same name by playwright Jean-Luc Lagarce. Lagarce died of AIDS aged 34, just four years after the play was first performed. This is Dolan showing that he can work with texts other than his own, collaborate with actors of much bigger stature on the world stage than his regulars (Suzanne Clément and Anne Dorval), and position himself not just as an auteur of Quebecois cinema, but art-house film worldwide. One can’t help but wonder if a similarity with work ethic can be found between Dolan and Louis, and if at some point this prodigious young director is going to need a break from directing nearly one film per year for the benefit of his own health and relationships.
Shot in extreme close-up by DOP André Turpin, the claustrophobia is more intense a sensation than in his previous film Mommy, thanks to its novel use of aspect ratio to convey different emotional states. We watch the subtleties of Gaspard Ulliel’s acting up close – there’s something wonderfully tragic and world weary about his face – whilst seemingly never-ending bickering dominates the audio mix, and the camera pans sharply left and right between the other characters. This narrow visual and audio style raises the tension to almost unbearable levels, only broken by reflective trips into Louis’ memories of car drives with his brother or youthful sexual awakening with a beautiful best friend.
Tonally, Dolan perfectly captures the melancholy sensation of re-visiting a family home. The location is still the same, the cooking is still the same, the smell of the soap in the bathroom is still the same, but the people and the returnee have either changed beyond recognition or departed completely. With little of the fleeting euphoria that previous Dolan films have contained, this new work marks the start of a new phase of his career, a new sombre tone to accompany working with bigger talents. Perfectly capturing the twilight years of twenty and thirty-something adults, the film depicts that sense of moving further from juvenile thoughts, signalling a new sensibility for the director who is clearly grappling with questions of mortality and the necessity for a loving and resilient family unit.
A longer version of Jack’s review can be found here.
Join us at Picturehouse Central on Sunday 18 December, 1pm. Book tickets.