It's only the end of the world

review by eh-jae kim

Arriving one second before the film started in a whirlwind of scarf and thoughts, I was overly sweaty and overly loaded with expectations about the celebrated new cinematic genius my friends and everybody else, yes even my parents, talked about. Since his directorial debut 2009 with I Killed My Mother, Xavier Dolan’s work has been highly acclaimed, culminating in the Grand Prix at Cannes 2016 for his latest film It’s Only the End of the World. It seemed almost absurd that I had never seen a movie by him before, and, fuelled with enthusiasm, I sat there in the vastly empty cinema, ready to for a first taste of Dolan.

The film opens with Louis, a successful playwright, revisiting his family after 12 years, to tell them in person that he will die soon. The first shots, depicting his way back home, the landscape, the people, and setting, reveal the numerous parallels between the main character and the director himself, a young, successful, French speaking, gay, handsome artist. From these first minutes on, the film evokes the impression of the lines between reality and fiction blurring, a way back for Dolan to his most private and vulnerable memories of family and childhood, often feeling too private, too personal to be able claim the right of actually understanding the whole story as an outsider.

Of course, this literal interpretation of the movie seems unrealistic, as not everybody can claim to have such beautiful actresses and actors as Nathalie Baye, Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux in their family. But Dolan shows us the most familiar versions of his star cast. The characters constantly remind us of our family members, and I wouldn't be surprised if everyone in the audience blushed at some point recognising their own flaws in one of the characters, as I did.

These exact flaws seem to be the predominant characteristics of the family, confined in the claustrophobic atmosphere of the house, only living for the nostalgia and the hope of Louis' return. The confining form of the chamber play itself is reminiscent of Chekhovian desperation, particularly in the depiction of uncomfortable conversations. These conversations and also the necessity of them are the thread which takes us through the film, but sadly this makes the film rather predictable and fitted into a form.

Coming back to the place of old memories, throughout the whole movie the main narrative is interspersed with atmospheric, hyperreal sequences, personal memories indulging in the kitsch sweetness of nostalgia. However, the film's reality, with its close-ups and the almost sensible light and tone, do not differ much from the quality of the memory, as the movie itself emphasises the total subjectivity of perspective, in its depictions of impression and recollection.

As I walked out of the cinema, I passed the poster which displayed a quote by Peter Bradshaw: “A brilliant, stylised and hallucinatory evocation of family dysfunction.”  Dolan undoubtedly distils the beauty within the dysfunction, but on the other hand, this family reminds more or less of every other family, of every other relationship. The only dysfunction here is created through the absolute subjectivity of Louis, or should we say Dolan, that the gaze upon his own family can never be perfectly beautiful. Therefore, my first encounter with Dolan’s world opened up more unsolved questions than it could answer, perhaps it is too a personal film, more for himself than for us to understand.