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Xavier Dolan, Lost in Translation?

Film review: Juste la Fin du Monde (It’s Only the End of the World) by Xavier Dolan

Today sees the UK premiere of Xavier Dolan’s eagerly awaited film, Juste la Fin du Monde (It’s Only the End of the World). With his new film Dolan returns to his original inspiration, difficult family relationships, which he brilliantly exploited in J’ai tué ma mère (I killed my Mother, 2009) and more recently Mommy (2014). Juste la Fin du Monde offers a stifling huis-clos based on the eponymous play by Jean-Luc Lagarce. The drama revolves around Louis, a terminally ill writer who returns home after twelve years of absence to announce his coming death to his family. For the first time Dolan works exclusively with French actors to adapt the play. The cast includes Marion Cotillard, Vincent Cassel, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux and Gaspard Ulliel. The plot is therefore supposedly based in France, judging by the accent, something Dolan had never dared to do before.

Beyond Dolan’s choice to use obsessively narrow close-ups to replicate the psychological impasse the characters find themselves at, the film is also unsettling for it denies the viewer geographical landmarks. Like in Mommy, Dolan uses an intertitle to introduce the plot, but this time rather to disorientate the audience; the action takes place somewhere, we are told. So why choose a French play and famous French actors if not to anchor the drama in France?

In a press conference, Dolan suggested that the film be read in its language and moments of silence, but in fact Juste la Fin du Monde does not look French at all. As in many of his films, Dolan’s hand is ubiquitous, from the screenplay to the editing and producing stages. He took himself to make the costumes for example, which remind us of the ultra-kitsch outfits of the magnificent Canadian actress Anne Dorval in his previous films. Likewise, the peculiar attention to details of the house decoration and furniture is also a personal trait of Dolan’s films, most visibly in his earliest works. To some extent, Dolan reemploys his very personal aesthetic which suits his Canadian dramas to perfection.

However here it just doesn’t fit. The inconsistency between Dolan’s idea of a family setting and a contemporary French household is poignant. As a fervent admirer of his work and a young French expatriate, it is extremely difficult for me to relate to Juste la Fin du Monde. I do not recognise my culture nor a plausible French house. Even the travelling shot from the taxi taking Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) home does not strike a chord. If anything, the imposing biker-like men sitting in front of their small, cheap houses look out of place; and what kind of French dwellers would sit outside of their houses these days anyway?

Xavier Dolan definitely took a risk in attempting a French-based film, but the result is so disturbing that it is hard to say he succeeded. The jury at Cannes clearly thought otherwise in awarding him the Grand Prix this year, but the general public might feel Lost in Translation like myself and consequently loose interest in the plot after a while. A film worth seeing though, as Xavier Dolan remains one of the most representative filmmakers of our generation.

When and where to watch it: UK premiere at the London Film Festival this week!

  • Friday 14 October at Odeon Leicester square

  • Saturday 15 October at Odeon Leicester square

Released in the UK: 14 April 2017

Trailer with English subtitles:

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