Last night was about watching a movie about which everything and nothing has been said: Juste la fin du monde (It’s Only the End of the World) by Xavier Dolan. The movie title was a perfect fit for the first post of 2017 : a year that will surely continue to oppose dramatic circumstances and moments of pure innocence, dark thoughts and bright happenings, all of that in 365 days … Or in 1h37 minutes…
Juste la fin du monde was freely adapted from a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, a confidential French writer who died of AIDS in 1995. Except the unity of time, space and action conferred by the play, Dolan seems to have deliberately walked away from the original plot and characters, in order to push the buttons of dramatic suffocation further. From the hot and sweaty atmosphere to the overdone and sinking make-up of the female characters ; from the very very close shots to the long pauses between dialogs, everything leads to a final choke. On the contrary to what some may have said last May judging the movie by its cover… namely the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, the 5 star French cast, the overall presence of Xavier Dolan in the « know-to-how-to » media and in a logo-saturated ad campaign…Despite this “image bashing” (or despite some people getting suspiciously crazy about this movie), the choke given by Juste la fin du monde is actually a healthy jolt into contemporary cinema, and it jerks upside down many clichés about modern gloominess, here the key to a somewhat beautiful and moving tragedy.
But what is this young classic film about ?
Louis (played by Gaspard Ulliel, who makes an impeccable comeback after his acclaimed lead performance in Bertrand Bonello’s Saint Laurent, 2014 ) flies back to his hometown (a green, moist and suburban place between Florida and the South-East of France, nobody cares to know where it is anyway…) to announce to his family that he’s dying. He has not seen them for years, absorbed by the job and life of a successful playwriter in the big city. In the meantime, his little sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux, always better in borderline parts than in « proper » ones, like in La Vie d’Adèle/ Blue is the Warmest Colour where she was surprising vs in James Bond’s Spectre where she was… where ??) has grown into a tatooed smoking woman, his elder brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel, cunningly and exquisitely raw) is now married with kids, and his mom ( wonderful Nathalie Baye) has turned into some kind of a nutcase (or has she ?). The father is long gone, and his disappearance may have been the trigger that shot this family apart if you are willing to read between the lines : Louis’s long-hidden homosexuality, Antoine’s violent personality, Suzanne’s permanent loss of time, space, and love, the mother’s impossible quest for peace, the daughter-in-law ‘s apparent clumsiness (played by Marion Cotillard, excellent here too, so Dolan definitely knows how to direct actors, whatever their caliber)… All of the family loves and thorns will burst in or out during one afternoon, before and after lunch, and all of its secrets should be revealed to us… Though maybe not to them ?
Yes, there is a lot to read, a lot to hear, and a lot to watch out for in this movie, hence its raw and absolute beauty. Like it is the most difficult thing for Louis to admit to his family that it might be the last time he sees them, the viewer has to make an effort (and maybe to come again to see the movie…) to get to the bottom of the many side looks, camera angles, unfinished sentences/business, and superdetailed images that are gifted to him like cinematic candies that will make his eyes pop. This healthy overdose of content screams one thing : Xavier Dolan is far from being arrogant in his movies (maybe he is in real life, but who cares ?), instead he goes where only a few directors dare to by giving some credit to his audience : he actually thinks we are NOT stupid, which is more that can be said about 90% of the current movie directors, who tend to take us to MC Donald’s by providing everything pre-eaten. Here we feel we are at a first Michelin star restaurant run by a young chef : it is full of energy, vivid, sometimes it wants to show off a bit, but in the end it gives a lot to nurture the mind, and that is what we should still ask of cinema.
The energy of Juste la fin du monde is the one of the French Nouvelle Vague and of Jean-Luc Godard’s movies, but combined to the art of choking coming from the theater, and to an in-depth art of filming, it makes a Dolan potion that requires a top casting to pour it around.
Many (myself inculded) have criticized the palette of big French actors chosen by Dolan, thinking it was more for promotion than for interpretation purposes. After having seen the movie, there is no doubt that an underdog casting would have missed some of the nuance and complexities carried around by the characters. The group scenes in particular (the living room is the main one in my opinion, not the lunch which has been over-advertised everywhere and actually lasts 2 mins) require a depth that can be only expected from experienced actors. The strength of Dolan is to have brought them to balance their long-run experience and control with flashes of raw energy that can be felt during some solo or duo moments.
Finally, the impeccable cinematography by André Turpin and the mesmerizing soundtrack by Gabriel Yared (even when Dolan decides to play Moby’s « Natural Blues », you are still glued to the screen…) complete a must-see movie that has been wrongly advertised and not enough seen all along. The media may have found in Xavier Dolan a new prey to hunt, but cinema lovers will find with his new movie just the right lunch to devour. Bon appétit !