Juste la fin du monde (It’s only the end of the world)

You could say that I’m a Xavier Dolan fan, but Juste la fin du monde is not my favorite of his films. Even so, there are some elements I liked. Dolan adapted the Jean-Luc Lagarce 1990 play. In it Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a successful writer, pays a visit to his family. He has had almost no contact with them in 12 years. We know from the film’s opening scene that he plans to tell them that he is dying. This is clearly a dysfunctional group of character. Louis has an overbearing, over aggressive (over everything) older brother. Antoine (Vincent Cassel) is loud, interrupts every conversations and bullies the whole family. It soon becomes clear that nothing is going to go smooth. Mother Martine (Nathalie Baye, wearing too much make up and has a Cleopatra haircut) smokes like a chimney and does aerobics in the kitchen. Sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux) was too young when Louis left. She is a sweet, insecure and sensitive girl. Louis meets Antoine’s wife, Catherine (Marion Cotillard). Catherine has probably been the target of her husband’s aggressiveness. She is so shy that she is unable to carry a full conversation. You can’t fault Dolan or his director of photography, André Turpin, for the beauty of the images and the quality of the directing. They have filmed mostly in close up to accentuate the feeling of claustrophobia. But Juste la fin du monde is hysterical. Not just a bit, all the time. You have every one trying to speak over one another. The worst is Vincent Cassel. I don’t actually (I won‘t because I can‘t) put the blame on Cassel. Antoine is an impossible part to play, and cannot think of an actor who can do it without annoying most people in the cinema. Dolan likes hysteria, but this is too much of it. He wanted to make a film on incommunicability, and boy did he ever. The overbearing Gabriel Yared score is doing all it can to make the dialogue inaudible. I think Dolan is a brilliant director, but not this time. My feeling about Juste la fin du monde can be best describe by that classic retort: “Not tonight, I‘m having a headache!”

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Juste la fin du monde (It’s only the end of the world)

Directed by:
Xavier Dolan

Screenplay by:
Xavier Dolan
Based on the play by Jean-Luc Lagarce

Starring:
Gaspard Ulliel
Nathalie Baye
Marion Cotillard
Vincent Cassel
Léa Seydoux

97 min.

In French with English subtitles.

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Elephant song

Xavier Dolan is everywhere these days. His film Mommy is winning international acclaim and awards, he’s about to embark on an international career, and he stars in Charles Binamé’s Elephant song. 1966. In a psychiatric hospital. Dr. Lawrence has gone missing and it’s up to Dr. Green (Bruce Greenwood) to find out what happened to him. Since Dr. Green is convinced that Michael (Dolan), the last patient to have seen Dr. Lawrence, knows what happened, he meets Michael in Lawrence’s office to investigate. Michael is manipulative, seems to know everything about people private lives. It becomes difficult for Dr. Green to get the truth out of Michael and remain in control of the situation. Meanwhile, Nurse Susan Peterson (Catherine Keener), who brought Michael to Dr. Green, is worried about what will happen in Dr. Lawrence’s office. She knows all about Michael’s mind games and manipulative tricks. Dolan and Greenwood work well together. At first it looks as if Xavier Dolan’s acting was too aloof and mannered. But people who saw Dolan on TV being interviewed see that same kind aloofness and those mannerism that makes him such a peculiar celebrity. Playing Michael, Dolan uses all those to create a unforgetable character. If you compare him to Michael, Dr. Green is a boring character. That makes Bruce Greenwood’s job more difficult. As an actor he has to make Dolan shine, keep the story moving, and make Green an interesting, multilayered person. He is successfully walking on that tightrope. Both actors are well supported by Catherine Keener and the rest of the cast. Charles Binamé has a weird way of building the suspense. He directs Elephant song as if everything, every table, every mirrors, every boxes in Dr. Lawrence’s office knew the secret of his sudden disappearance, as if they were a menace.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

Elephant song

Directed by:
Charles Binamé
Screenplay by:
Nicolas Billon
based on his own play
Starring:
Bruce Greenwood
Xavier Dolan
Catherine Keener
Carrie-Anne Moss
Colm Feore
99 min.
Rated Parental Guidance

Mommy

I was so completely flabbergasted by Xavier Dolan’s Mommy that I am at a loss for words. The 25-year-old Québec director’s film was the talk of the Cannes Film Festival last summer, where it won the coveted Jury Prize. We meet Diane «Die» (Anne Dorval), the widowed mother of Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon), a teenager with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Diane is unable to take care of Steve (heck, she’s barely able to take care of herself), yet unable to find a place that will keep him. He started a fire at the last centre, and caused physical damage to another inmate. Steve is unpredictably violent, and also shows love for his mom with great fanfare and excess. Everything is excessive with Steve. Mommy is a roller coaster of unabashed sentiments that unapologetically assaults us with a constant barrage of screaming, loud music, swearing (a mix of Québécois French (AKA “joual”) and English) and emotions. Mommy is a masterpiece of raw emotions. Diane does not have what it takes to deal with her son’s problems. She sometimes is the victim of his sudden violent outburst. Enter neighbour Kyla (Suzanne Clément), a stay at home wife and mother with a stuttering problem. Kyla becomes friends with both Diane and Steve, helping Steve with his studies and being a nice, warm, calming presence. They are inseparable. Anne Dorval, one of the best actress in Québec, played the overbearing mother in Dolan’s J’ai tué ma mère. Diane is, like her son, always living on the edge, about to burst anytime with the foul language. In this amazing performance, Dorval plays a mom like I have rarely seen on films. And what can I say about teenage actor Antoine Olivier Pilon (16-year-old while filming) ? Looking like an angel with his beautiful blond hair, he is perfect to play a little demon. If it was only a weird casting choice, it would still be fine. But Pilon has got the acting shops to carry that difficult, demanding part. And then some more. Because of Steve’s mental disorder, it is Pilon’s energy that drives Mommy. And in every scenes, Dorval, Pilon and Clément act in perfect synchronicity. Just as Die and Steve need Kyla, we too need Suzanne Clément (another well-regarded Québec actress). We need respite from all the hysteria. But Clément’s Kyla seems to be more distraught than her two friends, and she too finds a kind of calm and happiness with them. All that great acting, of course the screenplay, the energetic frenzy, the cacophony is all Dolan’s work. And an unusual choice of framing. The 1:1 aspect ratio frame is actually a rectangle screen (almost as if you were looking at a photo on your cell phone or blackberry). With that ratio Dolan focus on what is most important in the film, little things like people, faces and emotions. And with that gutsy choice Xavier Dolan also redefine the way films are made. Did I tell you that Mommy is a masterpiece?

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Mommy

 

Directed by: 
Xavier Dolan
 
Screenplay by: 
Xavier Dolan
 
Starring: 
Anne Dorval
Antoine Olivier Pilon
Suzanne Clément
Patrick Huard
 
139 min.
 
Rated 14A
 
 In French with English subtitles.

Tom à la ferme (Tom at the farm)

Young Quebec filmmaker Xavier Dolan was a big hit at this summer’s Cannes Film Festival. His film Mommy became the talk of the town. With his previous film, Tom à la ferme, Dolan shows a restraint you could not foresee from his other films. Tom (Xavier Dolan), a young advertiser ,travels to the country for the funeral of his boyfriend Guillaume. Guillaume was not out to his family. His mother Agathe still thinks he had a girlfriend named Sara. Francis, Guillaume’s brother, knows who Tom is, and violently convinces him to shut up. Francis is a violent homophobe, but like his mother, there is also a streak of fragility and vulnerability. After the funeral, when Tom tries to escape he is brought back by Francis. There is a scene in a corn field where Dolan creates (with his acting and his direction), a complete sence of emotional and directional confusion, which is perfect of course because that’s what Tom à la ferme is all about. Tom may try to escape, but is not able to. It becomes impossible when he finds the frame of is car mounted on bricks in the stable. The real question is: Does Tom really want to escape? Tom finds himself sexually attracted by the violence (and by Francis), and at the same time he is repulsed and creeped out by it. With the arrival of Sara, hysteria goes up a few notch, especially from Agathe who seem to suspect the truth about Guillaume. Dolan is a marvelously effective director of psychological thrillers. But his force here is in his cast, and how he directs them. Lise Roy’s Agathe is a woman with in a deceptively fragile physical and emotional state. Francis is played by Pierre-Yves Cardinal, and he shows all the right nuances of violent, aggressive, tenderness and all manners of sexual ambiguities. It so exciting to watch him and Dolan in a sort of cat and mouse emotional chase. But the best moment happens toward the end of Tom à la ferme. In a conversation Tom has with a barman ( Dolan’s father Manuel Tadros) he is told Francis and Guillaume’s terrible secret. In its simplicity and subtle acting, it reveals the greatness of Dolan as a director. Dolan and Michel Marc Bouchard adapted Bouchard’s play. And we should not forget Gabriel Yared’s tense score creating dysfunctional musicality.

Rémi-Serge Gratton

 

Tom à la ferme (Tom at the farm)

 

Directed by: 
Xavier Dolan
 
Screenplay by: 
Xavier Dolan
Michel Marc Bouchard
Based on Bouchard’s play
 
Starring: 
Xavier Dolan
Pierre-Yves Cardinal
Lise Roy
Evelyne Brochu
Manuel Tadros
 
105 min.
 
Rated 14A
 
In French with English subtitles