Returning home can have numerous meanings, as can running away from it when one is young, as for the protagonist of this bizarre 2016 movie, It’s Only the End of the World.
Indeed, it all begins with the famous writer Louis-Jean deciding to return to the maternal nest where he grew up; after more than a dozen years he left it to seek better fortune in the big city.
Waiting for him is, of course, his mother Martine, thrilled to see him again along with his younger sister Suzanne, a still-young girl also hoping to leave the old town as well, perhaps with Louis’s help.
Much less happy, however, seems his brother Antoine, a man with an intractable temper and a vulgar, unstoppable speech, always ready to insult and belittle anyone, including his sweet, resigned wife Catherine.
Although everyone seems happy to welcome and finally spend some time with Louis, very soon, Antoine’s constant complaining and arguing ultimately spoils the atmosphere, bringing a heavy mood over the house.
However, Louis does not want to give up on his real purpose, which is to inform all his family members that he has a terminal illness and that he does not have much time left to live.
Harsh memories of a lost family
After a highs and lows quality career, director Xavier Dolan clicks the key in the right lock by choosing to adapt the novel It’s Only the End of the World and coming away with a well-deserved Jury Prize at Cannes 2016 with a movie that is highly emotional and bold in its simplicity.
The story explores the fragmented psyche of an ordinary family that is only seemingly normal, a group that seems united but disintegrates into a series of dysfunctional disorders, like a band of musicians who would like to play together but always have the wrong timing.
Dolan adapts the novel with Jean-Luc Lagarce, capturing never-spoken-aloud memories, desires, and oppositions into a touching authenticity portrait with nostalgic rhythm and music, achingly sad toward the past the protagonist would try to relive but has now become a completely different present.
Louis is a writer who owes his success to leaving his family behind years earlier, hardly keeping in touch except for sporadic letters he sent from the big city.
A sin that weighs on his conscience, hovering between pride and shame, while instead filling his brother Antoine with hatred and envying his sister Suzanne, as if they both feel condemned to a mediocre life because of him.
Dolan portrays these decisive personal conflicts by combining a dramatic style (perhaps too much so, especially toward the end) that enhances the problematic dialogues that only hint at, without ever really explaining, the story full of difficulties and obstacles of these people.
Although the main character is a mild, quiet, and friendly man, his presence seems to bring out the worst of his family’s most embarrassing flaws, and it does not take long to realize that perhaps his impending death is, after all, the least of the problems for them.
Those faces of all families around the world
It’s Only the End of the World is one of those movies where less means better because the cast consists of only five actors, some of the best notable for European cinema in 2016.
So, let’s forget dramas with large and noisy families and focus on both the incessant dialogues and the silences of these strange characters, starting, of course, with Gaspard Ulliel‘s excellent performance.
I admit that I was never a massive fan of the sadly recently deceased actor; still, I appreciate him in several excellent roles, such as Strayed, a romantic interlude in the harsh World War II.
As said before, in this case, this character is almost a passive element of the whole story, functioning mainly as a trigger for the personality explosion of the rest of the cast, on which of all, wins first prize, the obnoxious and unstoppable Vincent Cassel.
In this case, we are talking about one of my favorite actors not only from Europe but worldwide: a true histrionic artist of a thousand forms capable of acting perfectly in high-budget movies like Underwater or A Dangerous Method, as well as in unforgettable tiny cult for movie-lovers like Read My Lips.
Marion Cotillard, little more in the shadows, is excellent for her shy role: a lady appearing virtually insignificant next to her husband but who, in the end, will be the only one to properly understand the drama and the real cause of Louis’ visit.
Regarding the other two women in the story, Léa Seydoux and Nathalie Baye are very different but, in a sense, complementary as the dissatisfied sister waiting for her brother to rescue her from a meaningless existence, while the mother would like him to lift the whole family out of moral misery.