'It’s Only the End of the World creates a space for the masses to spectate'MK2 Productions

The latest in Xavier Dolan’s string of family-themed films is the winner of the Grand Prix at the 2016 Cannes film festival, It’s Only the End of the World. When the long-lost Louis-Jean (Gaspard Ulliel) finally returns home after a 12-year absence, his family scurry round to welcome him in hopes of keeping him for good. Louis, however, has only planned to announce his impending death.

“To see this movie is to stand face to face with frustration and fear”

The script, adapted from Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play of the same name, lends itself perfectly to the hyperdramatic style Dolan is known for employing. In the theatre, words and actions must be accentuated to be visible and audible. The exaggerated script – now with supplementary close-ups – adds to the intensity and claustrophobia of a family that captures its members and refuses to let them go. Smothered by the attention, Louis-Jean gasps for air in any solitary space he can find. Dolan uses these moments to inspire our curiosity about his past with fresh longshots of the happy past. The duet of past and present tease out the essential questions surrounding the movie: what happened to make Louis leave? How will he get to tell his story?

“Smothered by the attention, Louis gasps for air in any solitary space he can find”

Many critics have described this movie as unbearable, and I will not pretend that it is anything but. What’s more unbearable than an overwhelming mother, a violent brother, a druggie sister, and a mousy sister-in law all crammed into a small bungalow, dying to hear your every word yet not giving you any space to speak? Probably not much. Though this scenario is less than beautiful, the film creates an unrivalled experience. People may not be able to fathom a place where one feels silenced. It’s Only the End of the World creates a space for the masses to spectate. The cinematography, characters, and even the slightly too loud music points towards the discomfort of Louis-Jean’s trip. To see this movie is to stand face to face with frustration and fear.

The colours used hint at the emotions surrounding each character. The mother wears a dark red lip clashing with her peacock blue nails and gaudy patterned sweater, accessorised with oversized jewelled rings that can only hinder her cooking. Marion Cotillard’s quiet sister-in-law conversely dresses modestly in hard-to-notice neutrals. Most of the film is permeated by a chilly blue light, which heats up slowly as the movie progresses. The changing temperature of the film parallels the changes in temperature of the conversation, accentuating its affect.

While I think the film is brilliantly executed, one can argue that it is over-stylised. Everything is turned up to 11 in a – in my mind, well executed – attempt to drive home the family’s neurosis. What saves the film from being ‘too much’ is the hope of a real relationship forming between the characters which ever so slightly peeks out from behind the drama. Xavier Dolan has done it again with a brilliant characterisation of a dysfunctional family. In trying to put itself back together, it falls apart ever further.

It’s Only the End of the World presents a stylised view of the ugly side of families. If not for the brilliant acting, watch it for the fresh perspective it provides that will surely relieve any of your own tensions

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