For some time now, there has been something about the average Canadian’s approach to cinema that has been bothering me. While our country is one that (apparently) embraces the customs and art of all cultures, we often forget to celebrate those who hail from our own homeland. Sure, we have the Junos (they are the Canadian music awards before you ask), the Genie Awards (movie awards), and other low key, hardly publicized celebrations of Canadian achievement, but we don’t get nearly as jazzed up as one might hope about truly creative artists that came from humble beginnings within our own borders. I’m not suggesting that we idolize people for their creative talents (or lack thereof) and place them higher in importance than our own selves and create a celebrity-obsessed culture like our neighbours to the south (we don’t need to, we can just continue to idolize their celebrities), but I do think that when an artist of any kind has earned international acclaim on numerous occasions, that the country should not only be aware of his or her achievements, but celebrate them in a fashion that is at least as spectacular as the work they produce.
Why then, I wonder, do you not know who Xavier Dolan is? I’m not blaming you, don’t be offended. But, the guy is a spectacular writer and director, and even has taken the lead role in most of his films. Impressed? Maybe you need some more facts.
Dolan was born in Montreal in 1989. That makes him twenty seven as I write this. His first film was released in 2009, and since then he has directed six feature films (nearly one per year), all of which have garnered massive amounts of praise around the world, most notably at a little film festival held each year in Cannes. For specifics, go ahead and check here. If you’re not a person easily impressed with film festival accolades and prefer comparing box office sales in order to make your judgements, okay, there’s not much I can say. To be honest, until this evening, I had never seen a Dolan film even listed as playing in Vancouver, a city far away, yet still in the same damn country that Dolan calls home. The theatre I was in tonight in which I caught Dolan’s latest film, It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la fin du monde), looked like this:
This is for a film that won the Grand Jury Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, and was nominated for the Palme d’Or this year at Cannes. But, you know, whatever.
While I could (and will privately) lament on the lack of acknowledgement of Dolan in his home country all evening, it’s probably best if I get into the nuts and bolts of his latest film, one that I believe is meticulously crafted and beautifully shot.
From the opening shot of the film, Dolan creates an atmosphere of shadow and gloom as Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) sits on a plane heading home to visit his family. The voiceover narration tells us that he is returning home for the first time in twelve years to deliver the news to his family that he is soon going to die. Sounds bleak, right? Well, it is. And it doesn’t get any more optimistic as the story unfolds. Dolan unrelentingly exposes the audience to a terribly dysfunctional family dynamic that begins the moment Louis walks in the door. In a painfully awkward scene, Louis stands in the doorway of his family’s home not even knowing how to greet them. He is received in four different ways by four different people: his younger sister (Léa Seydoux), who greets him ecstatically with a kiss; his sister-in-law (Marion Cotillard), who he has not previously met and is completely unsure of how to act around him; his mother (Nathalie Baye), who is still drying her nails with a blow-dryer and making no attempt to hurry; and his older brother (Vincent Cassel), an abrasive, aggressive, and wholly unwelcoming presence in the room.
Louis finally makes his way into the house and struggles for the rest of the narrative with memories of his past and trying to find the right time to tell his family he is running out of time. The fact that he has been absent for so long combined with the amount of things left unsaid between the family members, make Louis’ need extremely difficult to achieve. The scenes are split, rather simply, into long dialogue scenes in which Louis converses with different members of his family, always in roundabout ways, never really achieving much other than creating more awkwardness between them. Tension builds gradually as Louis repeatedly chickens out when given the chance to divulge his tragic news.
Dolan’s fastidious use of closeups dominate the film, masterfully forcing the audience to feel Louis’ growing claustrophobia and angst as the pressure on him becomes more intense. Light plays an important role, normally coming into the room through curtains or small windows, contributing to the foreboding atmosphere. By the end, as Louis is forced to make a decision as to whether or not to reveal his fate, each of the characters is covered in sweat and has reached their respective boiling points creating a fitting and knuckle-whitening climax as an unnatural bright light shines in through the doorway.
Though it may seem simple based on my description, It’s Only the End of the World is anything but a straightforward film. As far as plot goes, a man in his mid thirties goes home for the first time in twelve years to tell his estranged family that is is about to die. The intricacies of the relationships between each character, however, create a deep, revealing, and at times unsettling film. As with many of Dolan’s films, his latest forces us to look at our own relationships, whether familial, romantic or otherwise. His films achieve what films are supposed to achieve – they ask questions by probing deeply into the hearts and minds of complex, developed characters, and while nothing blows up and the film won’t be showing up on any Top Box Office lists, you will walk away from this film thinking, questioning, and feeling. And maybe, just maybe, you will nod your head in silent acknowledgement of a talented, under-appreciated filmmaker.
Giving Me That Indy Feeling
Tense Suspense Commences
It’s Only the End of the World Trailer: