Starring: Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard
Director: Xavier Dolan
Running Time: 99 mins
It’s Only The End Of The World is a Canadian/French film about a terminally ill man who returns to his family home after a 12 year-absence to tell them that he is dying, but the reunion doesn’t go exactly as planned.
For a film that’s almost entirely focused on dialogue playing out in one location, this is an incredibly intense watch. Directed and written brilliantly by Xavier Dolan, and featuring five excellent central performances, It’s Only The End Of The World is one of those films that perfectly captures a dysfunctional family in a relatable and engrossing way.
You may think that the idea of an hour and a half of watching a family arguing would make for an irritating and boring watch. However, this film works on the same level as the likes of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, using typical family quarrels as a base for a drama that unfolds far deeper and more serious truths about its characters.
And much like Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, It’s Only The End Of The World is a pretty exhausting whirlwind of a drama, but it makes for such engrossing emotional power that you won’t be able to take your eyes of the screen.
Let’s start with what really makes the film so intense and captivating: the directing. Xavier Dolan does a brilliant job at not only establishing five hugely different personalities clashing within minutes, but also at giving the film a uniquely claustrophobic and tense atmosphere that makes the family’s arguments all the more painful to watch.
For starters, the main action doesn’t leave the walls of the very small house for the entire first act, heightening that sense of cooped up frustration that the characters begin to exhibit throughout. What’s more is that Dolan’s visual style, combined with the cinematography of André Turpin, makes each conversation incredibly uncomfortable to sit through.
The majority of this film is a series of very long one-on-one conversations between our main character and the various members of the family. Dolan uses some very long and harsh takes on the characters during each of these sequences, while the camera floats in very close to their heads as if they’re taking part in some sort of verbal fight.
As a result, everything feels incredibly strained. As the conversations go on, the tension begins to build and build throughout a painfully long take until the point that there’s a snap, when everything becomes even more harrowing. It’s a truly expert way to make a dialogue-heavy film, and it really makes for a thoroughly engrossing and powerful watch.
But it’s not just Dolan that makes this such a good film, because the performances are also absolutely fantastic. An ensemble A-list cast featuring Gaspard Ulliel, Vincent Cassel, Marion Cotillard, Léa Seydoux and Nathalie Baye, there’s so much brilliant talent that’s put to exceptional use here.
The story of the dysfunctional family is made incredibly clear by the wide range that the performances show. On the one hand, the likes of Gaspard Ulliel show a desperate and frustrated yet subdued sadness, but on the other, Vincent Cassel, whose violently loud and angry performance makes for some incredible tension throughout, demonstrate something completely different. As we watch these numerous personalities clash time and time again, the lead actors work brilliantly with the story, and continue to provide some incredibly powerful performances that make everything about the movie even more enthralling to watch.
There’s so much about this film that works really well, however I have to say that there’s one element that does let it down. Whilst the majority of this film expertly uses dialogue, camerawork and the lead performances to create a tense and emotionally riveting watch, there’s something about the film’s more melodramatic moments that feel a little artificial in comparison.
The likes of Vincent Cassel’s very shouty performance wasn’t the issue, but it was the lack of consistency that cropped up (particularly in the final act) when we see the film almost completely turn on its head from a painfully realistic depiction of a dysfunctional family to something a little too theatrical. If the film had been running as a melodrama from the start, it wouldn’t have been a problem, but I was so impressed by the earlier use of more subdued emotional drama that the finale seemed like a little bit of a cop-out, which was really disappointing to see.
Overall, however, It’s Only The End Of The World is still a very good film. Its dramatic intensity through brilliantly-built tension and clashing personalities makes for a thoroughly engrossing watch, and its visual style gives it a uniquely claustrophobic and frustrating atmosphere that gives the film the vibe of a ticking time bomb, and that’s why I’m giving this a 7.7.