Juste la fin du monde/Its Only the End of the World - Life Threatening
| I often find Xavier Dolan's films overwhelming. His use of a combination of tight shots, slow (no, drawn out) motions, and erotic lingering all overlaying intense personal dialogue, can be jarring yet powerful. As he applies to that everyday, domestic dysfunction, his films are rarely light even if there is usually a great deal of humour in the dis-ease. People seem to respond to this making Mommy his biggest film yet, and his most disquieting. Now, his adaptation of the play Juste la fin du monde (even the title is ironically intense) takes this to a new level.
I realized about half way through Juste la fin du monde that it was how the film was upsetting me which made it work so well. At the centre of the film is the awkwardly beautiful Gaspard Ulliel, a terminally ill young writer who revisits the family he left behind 12 years ago before he dies. He's not visibly sick, he is the picture of male health. His journey through this film is tragic. He's a victim of severe dysfunction who has survived to be a success, everything he should be, only to be torn down by a life threatening illness. This juxtaposition is painfully beautiful.
He is immediately thrown into his family's toxicity. Dolan doesn't give his characters a chance to develop who they are; he throws them right at us. His angry brother (the always jagged Vincent Cassel) is just angry. He doesn't even attempt to hide his constant rage and Dolan doesn't give him a reprieve. We get glimpses into his pain, but he is done for and irredeemable. His wife (lovely yet remarkably plain Marion Cotillard) is perceptive and sensitive yet timid, like someone beaten down over time. Again, no reprieve for her character who sees so much but is so powerless.
Then there is the bold, damaged sister (Lea Seydoux) who is lovely yet vengeful and lashes out when provoked. Finally, the mother (Nathalie Baye), covering up everything, loving yet not realizing how her attempts to nurture have has made it all worse. This is the portrait of dysfunction from the point of view of writer, centred on him. This is his arc, and it is tragically incomplete due to the ways his family stops him from doing what he needs to do.
What makes it such a beautiful struggle is the lack of catharsis. I kept waiting through the arguments and confrontations to have some release, but Dolan never lets up. As the film closes you realize he will die with all this unresolved. It hurts, but as it is a Dolan film shot with lovely soft frames, it is a beautiful pain.
Summing up the lovely power of this film is when Ulliel has a memory of a sexy encounter with a young friend back when he was a teen, then we are told in a throw away moment that young man died of cancer, off screen. That is the magic of this film. Dolan puts all the energy, the arguing, the hurt on screen, but the real action, the triumphs, the connections, the love happen off screen. It's like witnessing the violence without the justice. It's not for the faint of heart.