Xavier Dolan has directed six feature films at the young age of 27, and at a press conference in Cannes on Thursday, the writer-director called his latest movie “It’s Only the End of the World” his best work to date. (So far, critics don’t agree.)
“That’s something you should always believe,” Dolan said. “How can you move forward and proceed with things you’ve committed so much time to if you don’t think they’re the best?” The writer-director (who edited the movie himself) is also an actor, though not in this film, which was adapted from a play of the same name by Jean-Luc Lagarce. The story focuses on a terminally ill writer named Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) who comes home to his family’s small house in France for the first time in 12 years to reveal he is dying. The cast playing Louis’ utterly dysfunctional family is comprised of Léa Seydoux as Louis’ sister Suzanne, Vincent Cassel as his brother Antoine, and Marion Cotillard as Antoine’s wife Catherine.
Though virtually all of the conflict in the film comes from family arguments and fights, none of the characters manage to address the underlying tensions that tear them apart. “What’s most gripping in Lagarce’s text is how nervous all the characters are and how they express things often that are very superficial or useless,” Dolan said. “They talk about everything except what they really feel.”
“It’s Only the End of the World” plays almost entirely in close-up and in one location, giving the movie the feel of a stage play, but Dolan revealed the look of the film didn’t take shape until after they began shooting. “It immediately appeared that we had to be very close to the characters,” Dolan said, adding that he quickly abandoned the widescreen aspect ratio he originally had envisioned for the movie. “There are messages that are not in the language but in the silence and looks in peoples faces.”
When the actors were asked to describe the process of working with Dolan, Seydoux praised his instincts and decisiveness. “He knows exactly what he wants and he’s extremely precise because he’s an actor himself,” Seydoux said. Dolan gave the movie a distinct, singular feel by using only loud pop music for the soundtrack and a limited color scheme. “The movie is brown and blue,” Dolan said, adding that only a flashback to happier times in Louis’s life featured a wider range of bright colors. Dramatic lighting also heightens the family tension throughout the movie.
Despite Dolan’s decisive vision for his films, Cassel described Dolan as a very experimental director. “Everything is so beautifully worked out before hand, but at the same time we have great freedom on the set,” he said.
Asked if “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” was an influence for the movie, Dolan said that he loves the film, but that he didn’t use it as a reference point for his movie, despite the similarities with Lagarce’s story. “The play calls for that suffocating atmosphere,” he said. “Those outburst were all black and white on paper.