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.)
I really wanted to like this film. I think it is the first Xavier Dolan movie that I’ve seen in a cinema and the cinematography in this film really is wonderful. There are beautiful panoramic shots of Canadian farming land, there is brilliant use of the close up and some artistic almost still imagery and there is the brilliant action footage shown above as our hero Tom, played by Xavier Dolan who also directed the film, tries to escape through a razor-sharp cornfield. There is a lot to like as well in the music he has used so well and in the strong cast of actors.
I was, however, left unsatisfied by the film and I’m not sure that I can really put my finger on it. It is a very complex film that attempts to deal with many deep issues including the love and loss of a lover, the grief of a mother for her lost child, loneliness, tension between rural and urban folk, isolation, repressed and ambiguous sexuality, dishonesty in relationships, and homophobia. Maybe there lies the problem in that many of these issues were not fully explored after being introduced. I do enjoy those art house films that leave a lot unsaid; leaving interpretation up to the audience. In Tom At The Farm Xavier Dolan holds back well on the storyline, but I think the development of the characters was somewhat jerky in many areas and that might have been because of the scenes that were edited out, as there were so many complex issues being covered.
Some elements of the plot or story seemed to stick out like sore thumbs and I didn’t think they needed to have been introduced, such as the dead son’s fictional female lover from Montreal. The point had already been made well enough and I think the visit of that character Sarah, to the farm, at the request of Tom, didn’t really add a lot to the story and it was also left just hanging there after a far more significant scene between Tom and a barman.
I was also left a little uncomfortable that we are again seeing a gay character portrayed as very flawed, inconsistent, fairly weak, and effectively persecuted and manipulated by a stronger bigoted homophobe. That tends to reinforce some rather unfortunate stereotypes. And for once I’d just like to see a gay character portrayed on the big screen that I didn’t have to be embarrassed by or feel sorry for.
My score: 3/5.