If you thought Xavier Dolan’s last film, Mommy, was volatile and claustrophobic with its endless mother-son shouting matches and 1:1 aspect ratio cramping the action, wait until you get a load of this.
Based on the stage play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, It’s Only The End Of The World is the tale of a successful French playwright, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), returning home after 12 years absent to tell his family that he is dying. Greeted by his blathering mother (Nathalie Baye), close-mouthed, combustible older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel) and his surly younger sister Suzanne (Lea Seydoux), it is immediately clear that it’s going to be no easy task to find the right moment to break the news. Making matters worse is the presence of Antoine’s meek, agitated wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard), though her simpering small talk at least provides a stuttering respite from the ceaseless screaming as resentments and recriminations are noisily aired.
It’s Only The End Of The World does not make for pleasant viewing, and those looking to cinema to provide them with escapism, or even a hint of hope and cheer, should steer well clear. Shot primarily in suffocating close-ups that emphasise the distance between these family members even when crowded in the same room, its sickly saturated images look ripe to burst so that the infection might seep out, and a persistent orchestral score adds to the din.
Louis’ memories allow for glimpses of happiness and nostalgia, but no sooner does he drift into reverie – often accompanied by a blast of energising pop music – than someone brings him back with a jibe or accusation. Stuck at home with each other for company, the family resent Louis for his escape, his success, his drawing upon their lives for material, and for making next to no effort to stay in touch. For his part, who wouldn’t want to be free of this bile and sickness? One superbly protracted scene between Louis and Antoine, who have fled the house only to be boxed in a car, ends with Antoine spitting that he is silent not because he is a good listener but because he wants to be left alone. Even Ingmar Bergman’s hostile domestic dramas clung to the hope that communication could soothe the pain. Not here.
Heightened and hysterical from first frame to last, It’s Only The End Of The World will no doubt be labelled out of control by many. In truth, it is the exact opposite – a filmmaker displaying full mastery of his craft to surgically bludgeon the viewer.