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.)
The film begins with a gang of Eastern European boys working Gare du Nord train station in Paris. It looks as though they’re hustling and involved in petty theft, maybe even more. One of the boys is cruised by very determined middle aged man who eventually invites him home, a day later. That turns into a really threatening home invasion by the whole gang who steal virtually every possession he has that they think they can sell on. The gang are led by “Boss” who is played superbly by Daniil Vorobyov. His threatening character looms large over almost the entire film even though he only appears at the beginning and end of it.
Daniel is the older man, realistically played by Olivier Rabourdin and after the home invasion he is visited by the sheepish boy he cruised, Marek (whom we later learn is really Rouslan) played by Kirill Emelyanov. Marek feels guilty about the invasion and whilst his first visits with Daniel are all about sex for money, the pair develop a friendship and eventually love grows, but probably not as you would have thought. This obviously causes tension between Marek and the gang and that comes to a head towards the end of the film.
The film deals thoughtfully with both gay male sexuality and the Eastern European immigration issues that seem familiar in many large European cities.
Eastern Boys certainly leaves the usual multiplex material for dead. 4/5