It’s Only the End of the World: Return to your roots before you die
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2016: Canadian director Xavier Dolan has delivered an extreme adaptation of the explosive play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, co-produced by French outfit MK2
In competition once again at the Cannes Film Festival, two years after the enthralling Mommy was singled out with the Jury Prize, Canada’s Xavier Dolan has taken a huge risk by choosing to adapt the radical stage play It’s Only the End of the World [+see also:
film profile] by French author Jean-Luc Lagarce in an equally stylistically extreme way.
Filmed with extreme close-up shots, and diving into the steaming cauldron of a hysterical family, in which a son on the brink of death comes back after 12 years away, the feature offers French actors Gaspard Ulliel, Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel, Nathalie Baye and Léa Seydoux some extremely intense roles, but frankly, this mannerist descent into chaos gives us reason to be confused, if only we can avoid getting caught up in the atmosphere of negative electricity that pervades it throughout its entire running time – the main characters relentlessly throw mutual accusations of madness at one another, and the sheer banality of the reunion’s humdrum moments takes on grotesque proportions as it is observed by someone who knows he is about to die (but who does not tell any of the others).
A maelstrom of negative emotions and resentment, the unsaid, memories (from time to time, the main character escapes into dreamlike flashbacks where a contrasting harmony reigns), breakdowns in communication and a brotherly love-hate relationship all create a dark, supercharged ballet where "too much" is the norm, all set within the surroundings of a middle-class house with hideous decor.
Starting off strongly, the film follows Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), who informs us via a voice-over of his imminent death and his intention to go and announce it to his family, whom he has turned his back on for the last 12 years, occasionally making do with sending a few minimalistic postcards. Unfolding almost exclusively inside the house and the family microcosm, the plot sees the protagonist do the rounds, going from one character to another: his evasive and aggressive brother Antoine (Cassel), his loving mother (Baye), and two people who are strangers to him – his sickly-sweet (and verging on namby-pamby) sister-in-law (Cotillard) and his little sister (Seydoux). Seen from the extremely lucid and variable perspective of a dead man living on borrowed time, this tiny world begins to take on an air of precious absurdity, which, while occasionally touching, above all oozes an appearance of a masquerade – the farce of life seen through the eyes of death.
Here, the subject of family and death, which has already been tackled a great many times in cinema, is filtered through Dolan’s lyrical style with a certain internal coherence, and the performers in the film often do a praiseworthy job of negotiating their way through some very difficult lines. Nevertheless, right from the start, the abrupt, firm stance of the mise-en-scène, coupled with the intense doom and gloom of the play, creates a deep rift between those who agree to enter this universe and those who outright reject it.
(Translated from French)