Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 19, 2016 8:49 am 
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Just the end of our patience with Xavier Dolan

He's 26 and this is his sixth feature, and the Québécois wunderkind still loves more than anything making movies about relatives yelling at each other, never more annoyingly than here. It started with the not-too-subtly titled I Killed My Mother/J'ai tué ma mère, which appeared to have strong autobiographical elements - though he didn't kill his mother, nor did the character in the movie, for that matter. His greatest success, and no less intense, a difficult watch, was the movie before this, the 2014 cell-phone-formatted Mommy, about working-class French-Canadian mom and her struggle with her bratty, psychologically challenged young son.

Dolan has said he feels this is his first work as an adult. That may mean that it's not autobiographical, he didn't write it, and it's not French Canadian. You could call this August, Osage Country for French people, except that it has very little plot. At least it's only an hour and a half, not three hours, but it still goes on far too long. It's adapted from a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, who died of AIDS in 1995. It's about a successful playwright who comes back to see his family for the first time in twelve years, in his mid-thirties, planning to tell them he's dying. But he doesn't, and AIDS isn't mentioned.

This time Dolan used his growing clout to film in France with an all-star team, perhaps picked as much for their fame as their appropriateness to the play. They are Gaspard Ulliel, Nathalie Baye, Léa Seydoux, Vincent Cassel, and Marion Cotillard. You won't like the characters they play, and you will pity Gaspard Ulliel's meek, semi-mute protagonist, Louis-Jean Knipper, the sick, returning playwright.

Dolan has precocious cinematic gifts, and the ability to get involved in every aspect of a production, including costumes and decor, a gift for the visual. That could have a down side: that he also likes to craft the film down to the actors, allowing them too little freedom to improvise and breathe. You feel that right away because of how the ladies are made up and coiffed to look their worst and least like themselves. Cassel is even more grotesquely obnoxious than he was in My King last year. He's Antoine, Louis-Jean's brittle, insecure older brother, who is repetitious and nasty. Ulliel is meek and polite. It's not that he looks so terribly unwell - just that he's less terrific-looking and chic than usual. One would like to hear more from Louis-Jean, because he's the only nice person on screen. But one is puzzled by his tendency to be a doormat, since he's stayed away from these loser relatives so long for a good reason. He wants to make peace with his past. But it's a useless project. They're too busy squabbling and being self-absorbed to react to him.

Huge control is shown not only in the odd coiffures of the femmes, but in the up-tight camerawork, which a lot of the time doesn't allow us to see the cast below the neck. The film has a stylish look, is handsomely photographed, and neatly edited in coordination with calculatingly intrusive music. All this makes you feel as just as brutalized as poor Louis-Jean.

It's Just the End of the World/Juste la fin du monde, 95 mins., debuted at Cannes May 2016, winning the Grand Prix and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury (and later the Best Actor César for Ulliel); a dozen other festivals, released theatrically in France 21 Sept. 2016, it has done relatively well with local critics (AlloCiné press rating 3.3, marred by some strong dissenters who find this simply an irritating, claustrophobic psychodrama), but few English-speaking critics, perhaps rightly this time, have had anything good to say (other than Peter Bradshaw of the Guardian; the Metacritic rating is a miserable 48%, and a word frequently used for the film is "inert."

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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