End This World

Somebody teach Xavier Dolan how to make movies

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

It’s Only the End of the World
RPL Film Theatre
November 4-6
1 out of 5

I find the world’s devotion to Xavier Dolan puzzling. True, he is a mildly gifted young filmmaker (27), but his bag of tricks is awfully limited. Mental illness is his go-to dramatic device and mother issues are his main source of material. Dolan’s characters don’t express themselves, they shriek — as he doesn’t seem to know any genre but melodrama (and not the good, Todd Haynes kind).

And yet, Quebec’s enfant terrible has won several awards at Cannes and seems to have no problems getting powerhouse names to appear in his movies. On second thought, it’s not that surprising: thespians can go over the top without any pushback from this director. The Adele video? John Maybury did the same with Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U more powerfully 25 years ago.

It’s Only the End of the World (hysterically chosen to represent Canada in the Best Foreign Film race) is a distillation of Dolan’s worst predispositions: his characters don’t interact, they yell at each other — mostly about stuff the audience isn’t privy to. Heck, nobody on screen resembles a recognizable human being.

There is a plot of sorts: Louis (Gaspard Ulliel, Hannibal Rising), a man estranged from his family, returns home after he discovers he’s terminally ill. His oblivious mother (Nathalie Baye) and younger sister (Lea Seydoux) seem thrilled, but older brother, Antoine (Vincent Cassel parodying himself), sulks like a madman. Antoine’s wife (Marion Cotillard) is also there, mainly to look constipated and appalled.

The reunion soon becomes a litany of recrimination, yet the characters’ motivations remain opaque.

Kudos to Dolan for signing such an accomplished cast, even though he totally wastes it. For all the confrontations, the characters are paper thin. The filmmaker shoots close-ups obsessively and shows total disregard for eye-lines and geographical space. The easy rapport between Seydoux and Cassel provides some respite, but their exchanges are limited and often interrupted by mopey goddamn Louis.

Seriously, if I wanted to watch people screaming at each other, I’d spy on my neighbours. They have problems.