Its Only The End of The World

Xavier Dolan’s family drama It’s Only the End of the World is a case of curious writing. One might accuse him of a rather flaky, convenient narrative pattern, and rightfully so. At the same time, the film is so confident in its skin that you nearly buy everything you’re served. Also a case of assured filmmaking, It’s Only the End of the World with its fabulous array of actors could well be a master class in screen acting, and even cinematography and editing.

Hitting the point straight, the film stems from the familiar dysfunctional family template. Returning after staying away from his family for 12 years is Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), who currently is a well-to-do playwright. It wasn’t a case of disappearance to anonymity but the young lad kept in touch, through postcards and indirectly through his work. Upon his return, he’s welcomed by his idiosyncratic family members. There are outbursts, a hell lot of them. There’s massive chaos where you aren’t told why a character behaves the way he/she does.

With Louis being the pivot, director Dolan gifts each of his fringe players gets that one scene to shine; put their point across. However, not all of these confrontations work. Despite being a fantastic player himself, Vincent Cassel’s Antoine gets the weakest deal. In a film filled with outbursts and revelations, Cassel gets one every 10 minutes. Why is he that bitter? Is it his mundane occupation? Or the dryness of staid family life? Probably. It isn’t that the family is plagued by a situation that Louis’ presence could have made a difference to.

Xavier Dolan designs his characters in a way that they make way for situations that are often hard to digest. Picture this scene in the pantry where the family matriarch (Nathalie Baye) performs aerobics upon hearing the accompanying track on the radio. You don’t see the context out of which the scene pops up. You see the exasperation on Louis’s face, that suffices enough.

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Despite some ill-defined situations, Dolan’s character construction is vivid. You would feel like knowing them more. There is intrigue behind Catherine’s (Marion Cotillard) obvious awkwardness. Suzzane (Léa Seydoux) is knowing, compassionate, and way mature beyond her age. Even in her most idiosyncratic ways, it is the mother’s hope that breeds interest in the proceedings. One must add that, all these diverse parts are brought to life with such dexterity that It’s Only the End of the World is possibly serve as trial material for auditions at film studios!

When it comes to a Xavier Dolan feature, comparisons are inevitable to his celebrated works. Though the film might lack the honesty of his directorial debut I Killed My Mother, the film works on two grounds – intention and execution. The loose ends in writing don’t take our attention away from those profound silences, tense environments, and gorgeous closeup shots. At times, André Turpin’s camera ventures way too close to the actor’s faces – that too from unusual angles. Leave it to the highly dependable actors on screen, we wouldn’t mind them at all. Talking about camera angles and usage of spaces in the frames, there’s this profound scene where Louis’ mother opens up. The dim room, intermittent closeups, the pause… all of it adds to the turmoil that Louis is going through. Not the mention the long, distressing hug it ends with.

Minor complaints notwithstanding, It’s Only the End of the World remains a watchable family drama for most parts of it. Just that we wish the writer-director had avoided that phone call Louis makes in the middle of the film, which in a way hints at the big revelation he was about to make. While it is clever that the film doesn’t delve into further details there, a bit more suspense in Louis’s character sketching could have served him better justice. For the rest, the film is deeply involving and extremely personal. The characters re-examine the syntax of communication within a family. So much so that you tend to feel like a real-time spectator, as opposed to a film viewer.

Rating: ★★★★