It's Only the End of the World ★★★★★

A heads up for you: critical distance is going to be an issue here. As soon as the credits rolled on Xavier Dolan's (controversial) Cannes Grand Prix winning It's Only the End of the World (Juste la fin du monde) the world came crashing down. I had to bolt from the cinema. I left friends in their seats. I wrapped myself in music. I walked streets of Sydney using shaking limbs to re-erect walls to hold the flooding tears at bay.

Dolan's film, his sixth and his second working from a play, this time that of French playwright Jean-Luc Lagarce, is an emotionally demanding work. A torrid swell of emotions that draws in, drags under and smothers. It is a trip home. It is family.

I saw mine. So this is going to get egotistical. Like Lagarce did. Like Dolan.

Returning home is not something I do often. I didn't run off for 12 years like Louis did, and yet I feel in my gut his homecoming. Louis, played with memory-soaking stillness by an excellent Gaspard Ulliel, is dying. He is retracing a line over his life. That necessitates his return. For that he must step back into the fawning familial apparatus.

Dolan's adaptation of Lagarce reads like a fucked up visitation day. Everyone gets their allocated one on one time. Everyone gets to unpack their experience in relation to Louis. They all get to step apart from the communal cacophony to mourn their loss of opportunity or to rail against it. To admonish. To wallow. To bask. All the time not knowing that their past experiences of their brother, their son, are about to be compounded, compacted and consigned to memory.

One by one they share with him the life they never had because he wasn't in it. Or because he left it. Or because he never gave them permission to live theirs. Nathalie Baye's blue nailed matriarch (gays love a bit of drag) presses him to take on the mantle of parent. He's not the eldest son but that is immaterial in her eyes. The sister, who can barely remember the real Louis, interacts with a brother she has created in her heart. Now grown into the visage of Léa Seydoux and deferentially reproachful, she is desperate to fill in the blanks, his and hers.

And then there is Antoine, Louis' brother. Through a distasteful performance by Vincent Cassell, Dolan pulls apart the fabric of the family and exposes its inherently destructive nature. Antoine is emotionally injured and has never allowed himself to heal. He is a brute who knows enough to understand his inadequacies but not enough to overcome them. And he has curdled in his own bile. He has, since Louis' departure, ruled by default.

Together these three bicker with unstayed vehemence. They cocoon themselves in argumentative white noise. Constantly picking, pecking, piercing each other's confidence. Locking themselves together in psychological co-dependence, a relationship cemented by Louis' absence. His visit is both circuit breaker and threat to their fucked up equilibrium.

I find it difficult to disguise the fact that I can relate. That I have had these same conversations. That I have attempted to untangle these same toxicities. That I have been idolised unfairly. That I have sent gatherings into a fluster. That I have been living the life my family didn't allow themselves to live.

That I have, at least emotionally, run away.

I am not comfortable with that fact. Nor was Lagarce, it seems. Nor Dolan, for he must surely see something of himself here to be able to adapt Lagarce's words and to seep them in the most fitting elements of his visual grammar. For this film is unmistakably Dolan's. It breathes with his music. It sings connection. It traverses the same landscapes of faces heaving under-breath. It finds solace in moments. In silence. In stopped time.

And in those moments, where Dolan unleashes the full force of his cinematic stillness, here nearly always shared with the only other outsider in the gathering, Antoine's downtrodden wife, Catherine, there is space to reflect. Nobody actually sees Louis' pain, only the failings or hopes they are too eager to foist onto him. Yet in these moments of respite, when he breaks away, when he sinks through the tension and finds his past, he is at peace. There he can contemplate the impact of his presence and his impending and eternal absence; I can contemplate mine. What is left unsaid amongst the thunderous conflict is always most important.

Sometimes it isn't worth saying. Sometimes it can't be said. Sometimes taking the time to consider it is enough to bring the world crashing down.

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