SFF 2016 Review: It’s Only the End of the World

Sydney Film Festival: It's Only the End of the World

Photo : Shayne Laverdière, Sons of Manual

It’s Only The End Of The World (Juste la fin du monde)Despite those infamous Cannes reactions, this slow burn film puts the close-up on subtle character moments.

It is easy to see why IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD (Juste la fin du monde) has been so divisive, just as it is almost impossible to watch Xavier Dolan’s film in a festival setting without acknowledging the media frenzy around the film’s 2016 Cannes screening. The 2016 winner of the Grand Prix and the Ecumenical Jury Prize is an intense cinema experience, asking audiences to stare raw emotion quite directly in the face through a series of continuous tight shots and heightened music cues.

Set “somewhere a while ago,” writer Louis (Gaspard Ulliel ) returns home after 12 years to announce his impending death to his family. As the audience waits for Louis to reveal his news, the film remains firmly locked inside a measured tension bubble from this point forward. Each of the family members either stumbles over themselves to say the right thing around Louis, correcting their sentences mid-stream or in the case of brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel), bullheadedly ploughing through with his opinions regardless. His mother Martine (Nathalie Baye), the latest in a long line of Dolan’s crazy on-screen mothers, perhaps puts it best when she comments that they are all “afraid of time, the time you give us.” As each family member pulls him aside, including a younger sister (Léa Seydoux) that only remembers him fondly through the stories of others, none of them have trouble making their own confessions to him, even as Louis struggles to make his own. Complete stranger Catherine (Marion Cotillard), Antoine’s browbeaten wife, is the only one that seems to understand what Louis wants to say by his (in)actions.

Dolan doesn’t make it easy for us to get close to his characters, with Mommy cinematographer André Turpin using close-ups almost exclusively to focus on the monologues. Gabriel Yared’s score swells overwhelmingly at times, except during the often incongruous series of pop songs used during flashbacks. Yet these are all simply tools to keep us at arm’s length, and if you don’t feel a connection to any of the characters, then this is probably deliberate. Dolan ensures that we feel the same disconnect from these people that Louis feels for a family that, for him at least, is effectively a collection of fragmented memories. If a final confession is on the tip of Louis’ tongue for the duration, we share the anxiety around this, and Dolan never lets us off the hook for a second.

2016 | France, Canada | DIR: Xavier Dolan | WRITERS: Xavier Dolan | CAST: Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux | DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission Films (AUS) | RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes | RATING:★★★★ (8/10)