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It’s Only the End of the World finds a family in crisis

April 14th, 2017  |  Published in New Reels

Award-winning writer / director Xavier Dolan’s new film It’s Only the End of the World superbly examines how a returning son throws a family into turmoil.

Thanks once again are due to the BFI London Film Festival as one of the new movies I was fortunate enough to catch several months in advance of its UK release, was writer / director Xavier Dolan’s superb drama It’s Only the End of the World. Boasting 5 great performances from the cream of French acting talent, he has created a moving character piece that you should see.

Louis (a charismatic Gaspard Ulliel) is now a famous writer. But to his mother, younger sister and older brother, he represents the member of their family who left. To one of them, he’s escaped their small town life. To another, he’s run away from his role and their responsibilities within the family structure. His return, after 12 years, brings long buried feelings to a head and in a series of scenes – mostly 2-handers – we watch this family quietly implode.

I’ve long heard of Dolan, the French-Canadian film-maker, via the festival circuit. His award-winning earlier movies, I Killed My Mother (2009) and Mommy (2014) had critics heaping praise on this Montreal artist. It’s Only The End of the World came away from Cannes 2016 with the prestigious ‘Grand Jury Prize’. It is, I have to admit, the first of his films I’ve seen. But I’m now eager to watch his others after having been so struck by his use of close-up in this movie. He gets almost uncomfortably close to his subjects and makes us feel as though we’re standing right beside his characters, passing judgement on their actions.

Of course when you have actors of the calibre that you have here, getting that close is exhilarating. Alongside Ulliel, you have a veritable who’s who of great actors rounding out the small cast. The wonderful Nathalie Baye plays Louis’ slightly eccentric mother. Lea Seydoux is her usual captivating self as his wayward, younger sister Suzanne. The incomparable Vincent Cassel is frustrated and angry older brother Antoine. And the outsider in the mix is Antoine’s mousey wife Catherine, unknown to Louis and inhabited by the genius who is Marion Cotillard.

It’s the moments between Louis and Catherine that are particularly enthralling. And not just because of the skill of the actors we’re watching on screen. As the outsider, we as the audience go with Catherine to discover who Louis is and was and how this family functions around him. Although we know why Louis has really come back, it’s through their silent looks and quickly established unspoken bond, we witness across Cotillard’s amazing face the truth of why he’s chosen to come home now.

If you’re looking for a film that exposes the family dynamic in all its flaws and dimensions, then go no further than Dolan’s movie. You’ll get both powerhouse performances and an emotional journey over its 97 minutes. And when Moby blasts out brilliantly over the soundtrack in the final moments of the film, you’ll be uplifted. That feeling and what the movie makes you think about, stays with you for a long time afterwards.

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