As you might expect from a movie submerged in its own misguided sense of profundity, it opens with a lengthy outburst of exposition, a cautionary tale both for the plot’s machinations and the insufferable whims of the film itself.
Not a lot happens in Xavier Dolan’s Grand Prix winner It’s Only the End of the World. Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) returns to a vexing, highly-strung household after a 12-year absence to tell his family (Marion Cotillard, Lea Seydoux, Vincent Cassel and Nathalie Baye) that he’s going to die. Based on a stage-play, thus begins a series of strained encounters wherein Dolan pointedly almost refuses to show two faces in the same frame.
Further shoving the camera in the nose of any one of the five central characters when they alone are sprouting dialogue, the larger part of the film is a panoply of close-ups, very occasionally featuring the back of someone else’s head and more often than not concentrated on one character or another’s inscrutable emotional anguish. Dizzyingly switching between characters, Dolan appears intent on capturing any vestiges of emotional resonance in their brows, rather than sitting back and letting any conversation or dynamic naturally evolve.
Wasting at least one talented performer, you can count Cotillard’s facial expressions and memorable lines on one hand. Like her counterparts, she is wheeled out to react to or instigate emotion-laden moments without any real context or lead-in that naively demand an audience reaction in a series of unresting instances which together, along with the film, in no way exceeds or offers anything beyond the sum of its parts.
The film’s saving graces are Cassel and Seydoux, the latter of whom shines through the fog of the picture’s ill-judged manner and woeful pretension with several emphatic sequences. Cassel, reliable as always, commands the two best scenes in the film, both of which actually involve something happening beyond two characters talking. A drive through the neighbourhood ends up being so much more as a result of Cassel’s irrepressible tact for loudly making the most of dramatic situations, while the final sequence is only really memorable for a short turn of his, so moving that he renders the episode almost incongruous and deserving of inclusion in another, better film.
Drawing no end of contention following its screening at Cannes and subsequent win, it’s not difficult to see why.
It’s Only the End of the World is screening at the Sydney Film Festival on Sunday 12 June – for tickets head to the Festival website