Directed by: Xavier Dolan
Written by: Xavier Dolan based on the play by Jean-Luc Lagarce.Starring: Nathalie Baye (La mere), Vincent Cassel (Antoine Knipper), Marion Cotillard (Catherine), Léa Seydoux (Suzanne Knipper), Gaspard Ulliel (Louis-Jean Knipper).
When directors talk about adapting plays for film, they often talk about “opening” the play up. Many plays have a limited number of characters and only one locations – which makes sense given the constraints of the theater. There is no such constraint on film – so often plays add characters and locations, subplots, etc. when they move to film, in an effort to make things more cinematic – no director wants to accused of making a movie that is essentially a photographed play – and even if this opening up often has mixed results, it’s still pretty much the preferred method. Xavier Dolan does a little of this in It’s Only the End of the World – based on the play by Jean-Luc Lagarce. He has a flashback scene that would impossible on stage, and at one point, two of his characters go on a car ride instead of staying at the house nearly all the rest of the action takes place in (I assume, not having seen the play, that the scene was at the house on stage) – although in doing so, he’s just trading one confined space for another. For the most part though, Dolan traps his five actors in one location – and then goes a step further than that because he shoots almost the entire movie in close-up – whoever is talking has a camera directly in their face, unless the camera is directly in the face of the person they are talking to. Instead of opening up the play, he’s closed it down even more – made it more claustrophobic than ever before. Perhaps with another play, this approach could work – but here, it’s pretty much a disaster. There is a lot of screaming and big gestures in the film, and the effect of watching it in a theater is pretty much akin to having someone get into your personal space and screaming at you for 97 minutes.
The movie is about Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a gay writer you is returning to his home for the first time in 12 years to tell his mother (Nathalie Baye), older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel) and younger sister, Suzanne (Lea Seydoux) that he is dying. The only other character there is Antoine’s wife, Catherine (Marion Cotillard) – who Louis has never met, even though she and Antoine have been together for a decade, and have two kids themselves. The exact reasons for Louis’ self-isolation – and the whereabouts of their father – is left unanswered (although, I will admit, I spent more time trying to figure out how old the three siblings were supposed to be than that – Cassell is 49 in real life, and both Ulliel and Seydoux are 31 – although Ulliel says he’s 35 in the film, and Seydoux is supposed to be much younger, as he mentions he doesn’t know her at all as he left when she was a kid – and she admits she has no memory of him living with them – but I digress). Louis’ mother is excited for the visit – she’s slathering on makeup, and putting out a nice spread of all of Louis’ childhood favorites. Suzanne cannot wait to essentially meet her older brother – who she imagines lives some glamorous life, as opposed to her boring one in suburbia, where she basically sits around and gets stoned. Antoine is angry – angry at Louis, and at his life in general. Catherine tries to play the role of peacekeeper – keeping a smile plastered on her face throughout, and speaking quietly. Like many quiet people, you get the impression that not a lot gets by her – she understands more than she appears to.