It’s Only the End of the World – review #sydfilmfest

Xavier Dolan wrote, edited and directed this film and it won the Grand Prix at Cannes this year. Both Xavier and the film come to the Sydney Film Festival with a big reputation to live up to.

It’s Only the End of the World is based on Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play Juste la fin du monde. Gaspard Ulliel stars as Louis, a successful gay writer returning home after 12 years away, to inform his family of his impending death. We are given no further information on this. Gaspard’s performance is consistently strong throughout and he is well supported by Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux and Vincent Cassel.

Despite its success at Cannes, I don’t think this play has been translated well enough for the big screen. The cast do a great job with the roles and material they’ve been given, but it simply isn’t a convincing portrayal of a family who are all extremely intolerant of each other, all the time. It may have worked well enough on stage, but I think I’d have been similarly frustrated and unconvinced.

Xavier Dolan does a good job of building the tension and works in time spent exploring Louis’ individual relationships with his siblings, his mother and his sister-in-law, but whenever they are all together the mood quickly disintegrates. They almost never stop talking at each other and poor Louis is never given much air time. We do really feel very sorry for him and he never quite gets around to passing on his tragic news. The film built to what I felt was an extremely emotional climax right at the end, but I left wondering whether this was actually cathartic for all (or any) in his family, or not. I think this was because some of the dialogue was either awkward or incongruous.

It is mostly shot indoors in quite dark light, with some very tight framing and music is well used for dramatic effect. Gaspard doesn’t say much, but he has a very expressive face and gives good tragic. There are some artistically lit interior scenes and a really beautiful lingering image of Louis when hugging his mother that is breathtaking on a big screen (you can see it from about 0:43 in the trailer above).

My Bruce McAvaney Specialness Rating*: 3/5 (Not especially special.)

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