Oh lord this was tough to get through.
Directed by French Canadian Xavier Dolan, who is only 27, this adaptation of a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce has already kicked a few goals for the boy genius who was once a child actor.
His movies ‘Mommy’ and ‘I Killed My Mother’ (which premiered at Cannes in 2009 and received an eight minute standing ovation before winning the 2016 GRAND PRIX at Cannes) have put him firmly in the young and gifted spotlight.
He also directed the video for Adelle’s top of the pops hit ‘Hello’ and although I found It’s Only The End Of The World harrowing I’m now driven to check out what else he’s been up to since he turned twenty and started making contentious art.
My experience of being in the presence of this CRAZY family was so divided that I decided to read up on the reception of this madhouse of glimpse into a cluster of sibling rivalry, co-dependence on steroids and maternal instincts gone south.
It seems Dolan’s sixth film has is polarised critics and viewers, so this calmed me somewhat. I wasn’t alone in my confusion. It’s such a powerhouse of an experience, I was haunted by it for days, but I can’t say I necessarily enjoyed it. I appreciated it. I was in awe and gripped by it but I was left disturbed and shaken. Good art should illicit powerful emotions so Dolan and his amazing cast have certainly done their job in this instance.
I have to quote Variety magazine “a frequently excruciating dramatic experience”, no argument here, and The Gaurdian’s bullseye comment “brilliant, stylised and hallucinatory evocation of family dysfunction”.
That’s it in less than two sentences, I needn’t say another word.
So the story is about a family reunion that you wouldn’t want to attend if you could at all help it.
Louis, Gaspard Ulleil, is returning home after an absence of twelve years. He’s now a successful playwright and newspaper clippings outlining his wow factor adorn the bedroom wall of his young sister Suzanne, gorgeously modern and feisty but also isolated and wearing the battle scars from being trapped in the madness of her family. He holds mythological status in her pothead eyes even though she barely knows him.
Vincent Cassel plays the brother and is so completely hideous in this role (he was also pretty hideous in Black Swan) I felt like I needed counselling after sitting through his character Antoine’s rageaholic tirades. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for Antoine as his verbal lashings are unrelenting. He’s exhausting. There was one tiny moment when I felt his pain and decided maybe underneath the bile was a damaged soul, but that only lasted a nano second before he became hideous again.
The matriarch Martine, inhabited by Nathalie Baye, is superb. Completely glamorous from her perfectly coiffed hair to her blue green eye shadow, her lipsticked lips, her jewellery and clothing all match, down to the varnished nails. She is a masterful hostess preparing the lunch they’ve all been waiting a decade not so patiently for. Antoine’s wife Catherine, is Marion Cotillard who etches in stone for me that she’s more than just a beautiful graceful presence on screen, (she even managed to elevate Allied to a watchable level for me) she is so calming in this film it’s divine. She’s the one you’d want to sit next to during the meal with the family from hell, fraught with jealousy, resentment, bitterness, confusion and a truckload of pain.
Louis has a big secret, he’s dying, and it’s never revealed to us what he’s dying of, but he has decided to tell his family of his impending departure over lunch. After not seeing any of them for twelve years. Nice.
It’s Only The End is really an incredible character study.
Cotillard is nervous and over chatty with Louis, who she’s never met. He didn’t attended her and Antoine’s wedding. He’s never met the niece and nephew that she and his brother have produced, more evidence of his selfish lifestyle. But, amidst her geniality is a strength and stillness that draws us to her. She seems the most stable person in the house. Antoine is out of control and we never really discover why he’s so furious at life and his brother. He lashes out at his mother and wife in such a vile way I wondered why he hadn’t been poisoned by one of them years ago. The way he speaks to his young sister is so degrading and vicious you understand why she chain-smokes joints. The mother is smarter than her need to please gene would have us think. She plays the desperate to have one happy day with her brood Mama and the savvy ‘I see more than I say’ woman who refuses to be beaten down by her circumstances and her children’s less than perfect behaviour with serious mojo.
This wasn’t easy viewing but it was riveting and I was drawn in and couldn’t take my eyes from the screen, even when Antoine was in full flight and Dolan decides this is a good time for a close up, just to make us even more uncomfortable. I wanted to avert my gaze but I kept watching.
It’s beautiful, frustrating, cosmically bent family chaos. See it if you dare. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
It’s an amazing film for anyone to make and the fact that it came from such a young mind is even more extraordinary.
Showing at various Palace Cinemas as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival.