Xavier Dolan’s thoughtful new film is a masterpiece in dysfunctional love
by Mark Hamill
You may know Xavier Dolan as the director of Adele’s record breaking Hello video (you’ll be glad to know, a flip phone features here too!), but since his debut feature I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère) he has directed 6 films and acted in 12… and he’s only 26!
This Cannes Grand Prix winner is a tour de force of France’s acting heavyweights: Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel, Léa Seydoux , Gaspard Ulliel and Nathalie Baye. Louis, played by the incredibly handsome Gaspard Ulliel, is a renowned writer, who upon discovering he has a terminal illness, returns home after a 12 year absence. The reason for his departure from the family home is never explicitly stated, but as a gay men, we can identify with how family life isn’t always bliss. The ham fisted questioning, the inadvertent homophobia and a general air of misunderstanding can all be hard enough, never mind when you have to tell your family you might not make it to the end of the year.
The fact that the lead character is gay, is introduced and dealt with in a very subtle way. It’s not a screaming point of consternation, rather a rippling undercurrent. His almost estranged family are a motley crew: Natalie Baye (Mother – name never given), the matriarch, widowed with the tendency to retell the same stories ad nauseam. Léa Seydoux as Suzanne, the punky little sister ingénue. Vincent Cassel as Antoine, the mardy brother, eternally put upon by his nearest and dearest. Marion Cotillard as Catherine, the innocent, slightly simple, but somewhat astute wife to Antoine. It’s her outsider status that gives us glimmers of a breakthrough with Louis. He is the largest presence in this family: in absence, even more so. He is an enigmatic black hole. His family trundle along in his famous shadow. We will for him to tell his family, but dread the moment that he does.
This film is up close and personal. Tight shots flicking between characters’ faces make you feel claustrophobic. There is a pressure cooker of asides and snarks, and seeing these close up and raw is difficult. Louis is stoic and doe eyed in equal measure, using a careful and considered deployment of language. Louis’ status as a writer means that the characters constantly second guess and correct themselves.
It all serves to create a tense yet utterly mesmerising play of events. Why this missed out on the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar Shortlist is a complete mystery. Shame on you Academy!
It’s Only The End Of The World is in select UK cinemas from 24th February