Movie Review: It’s Only the End of the World (Juste la Fin du Monde)

With the Oscar Awards ceremony a few weeks back, the Hollywood awards season came to a close for another year. In “Hollywood of the North” (aka Canada) however, the awards season ended last Sunday with the 5th Canadian Screen Awards. (Why only five, you ask? That’s because the Actras and the Geminis – Canada’s equivalent of the Oscars and the Emmys, respectively – merged a few years back.) At the CSA ceremony, the big winner of the evening was the Canadian-French co-production, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD (JUSTE LA FIN DU MONDE), the sixth feature film by 27-year-old director Xavier Dolan. The film took home six awards (out of nine nominations) including the big ones for Best Motion Picture and Best Achievement in Direction.

Few were surprised that the film did so well on its home turf as it had already won the Grand Prix and the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival. That was not the case on the croisette last May though. The Cannes announcement was apparently greeted with a chorus of boos from much of the press. I can see why. It’s not the easiest of films to watch and many questions are left unanswered when the closing credits roll up the screen.

Based on the play of the same name by Jean-Luc Lagarce who died of AIDS in 1995, IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD takes place on a Sunday afternoon at the very modest pastoral home of Martine Knipper (Nathalie Baye, perhaps best known for starring along with Gérard Depardieu in the 1983 film, THE RETURN OF MARTIN GUERRE), a 60-something-year-old widow with three grown children. Her middle child, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel, SAINT LAURENT), a 34-year-old gay playwright, comes home for a visit to tell the family that he’s dying (presumably of AIDS). It’s been 12 years since he was last there and it’s not hard to wonder why he left. The Knippers have some deep-rooted issues. To start, Martine dresses and acts like a woman a third her age. Younger sister, Suzanne (Léa Seydoux, THE LOBSTER; SPECTRE), lives in the basement spending much of her time getting high. Older brother, Antoine (Vincent Cassel, BLACK SWAN) has been married to Catherine (Marion Cotillard, ALLIED) for about ten years and it’s clear that their marriage is not a happy one. He’s angry and he bullies Catherine with his regular tirades. Catherine, for her part, has been so verbally beaten into submission over the years, she’s unsure of her words to the point where she corrects her own grammar when she speaks. Why Antoine is angry is never revealed, though we do see in brief flashbacks that the two boys were once close. Judging by how he treats all the women in the family and how they accept it, it could be that his misogynistic behaviour is something he learned from his father.

Though Louis is a successful writer whose words resonate with the audiences and critics who see his plays, when he’s with his family, he’s meek, preferring to limit his sentences to two or three words at a time. His inability to open up to them angers both Martine and Antoine. (Suzanne is just happy to have her brother back.) Martine feels that Louis should step up and be the family’s head by virtue of his fame but he knows, for many reasons, it would be impossible. Antoine, meanwhile, resents having Louis back – perhaps because he left, perhaps because he knows Louis is gay or perhaps because Louis is successful and he’s not. Antoine would like nothing more than to see Louis leave as quickly as possible.

As the afternoon wears on, Louis struggles with going through with his decision to tell the family of his illness. Antoine and Catherine may already suspect why he came home now though.

Arguing families is not a new subject for movies but IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD succeeds – barely – thanks to the solid performances of all the actors and André Turpin’s (INCENDIES) camerawork. As the characters literally get into each other’s faces, their faces are shoved into ours. There is no shortage of close-ups and their not-so-innocently fired barbs at each other land in full view.

Audiences are also divided on this film and it’s understandable. IT’S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD is tough going and requires a lot of patience. If you think you can handle watching a family go after each other for two hours, check it out. You know what? Check it out anyway. After all, it’s not the end of the world.

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