Canada at Cannes: First Reactions to Xavier Dolan's 'It's Only the End of the World' (Updated)

Marion Cotillard and Xavier Dolan on the shoot of It's Only the End of the World.
An eOne Films Release.
Well, it looks as if Xavier Dolan isn’t winning the Palme he should have won for Mommy. The 27-year-old Quebecois master is getting so pummelled by critics one would swear that Atom Egoyan just debuted a new flick at Cannes. Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World has critics calling it “excruciating,” “shrill,” “disappointing,” and then some, although the Toronto Star’s Peter Howell taps it as a Cannes contender. For a film that seemed poised to be a contender for Canada’s Oscar bid in the Best Foreign Language Film race with a TIFF/award season friendly release date of September 21, It’s Only the End of the World seems to be out, unless magic happens when it screens for the public tomorrow.

Indiewire: Mostly set in the confines of the family's home, "It's Only the End of the World" rises above its inherent theatricality thanks to Dolan's ongoing visual invention, as he recycles the high-contrast lighting and shifting colors that first cropped up in his work with "Lawrence, Anyways." However, where those movies applied their distinctive cinematic tricks to a complex set of circumstances, "It's Only the End of the World" — which clocks in at just under 100 minutes — unfurls like an outline for a formulaic story of constant bickering and resentment that no amount of pretty images can salvage. 

Variety: Shooting them almost exclusively in claustrophobically tight closeup, Dolan has tried — not unsuccessfully, mind you, though in the most taxing way imaginable — to break free from the theatricality of the source material, while preserving the tricky language of Lagarce’s text (spoken in actual French, rather than his usual Canadian accents). The result is a frequently excruciating dramatic experience in which characters seem almost never to stop talking…
[FYI: we speak ‘actual French’ in Canada too…]

The Playlist: But having recruited as fine a cast of French-speaking thesps as has ever been assembled, and marshalled a strong behind-the-camera team, Dolan’s usually exuberant egotism is here taken so seriously that what we’re left with is a shrieking bore, without a single character worth rooting for, least of all the puddle of maudlin self-pity at its center.

The Hollywood Reporter: Unfortunately, the filmmaker's latest, It's Only the End of the World (premiering in competition here in Cannes), is likely to unite the pro- and anti-Dolan factions in broad agreement: It's not very good.

The Wrap: After serving on the festival jury last year, he returned to the Cannes competition on Wednesday with “It’s Only The End Of The World,” his first total misfire. He now runs the risk of alienating many he had so recently won over… The actors listed above [Vincent Cassel, Nathalie Baye, Gaspard Ulliel, Léa Seydoux, and Marion Cotillard] are not only among the best (and most famous) actors in France – they are among the best in the world. But you wouldn’t know it from this film, where no one is given much to do beyond bellowing, bickering and being beautiful.

Toronto Star: It’s a movie of huge emotions but not major incidents. We are kept in suspended animation, holding our collective breath as we wonder when and how the reticent Louis will break the news of his terminal illness to his family, and what the reaction will be.Dolan keeps up a dizzying pace, cutting between close-ups of family members tearing into each other. They are literally in each other’s faces, as the film is in ours. The sound design is more aggressive than usual for Dolan, with pop songs turned up as if to drown out the shouting of the characters. There are also beautiful moments of sudden silence, or of rain falling. There’s also a cuckoo clock that seems eager to register opinion as well as to mark the passage of time.

CineVue: Dolan throws the cinematic sink at it but his latest feels like a shorter, not particularly watchable sequel to August, Osage County… As with Tom at the Farm, Gabriel Yared produces a rich, Delerues-like score, but no amount of saturation and occasional bursts of cinematic invention can save such material. Following the triumph of Mommy two years ago - which saw the then 25-year-old Dolan sharing a prize with Jean-Luc Godard - It's Only the End of the World, though not a disaster, will be for many a disappointment.

Movies.ie: Cotillard makes the character sympathetic and watchable, but she never really gets a chance to be as great as we know she can be. Vincent Cassel plays Catherine’s husband Antoine, and the actor obviously enjoys his large and showy role; Antoine is the antagonist, the one who always stirs up emotion then shuts it down, and Cassel is great in this horrible role.

RogerEbert.com: … these talented actors are given so little to do beyond raging or cowering in a script that feels like it was made up on the set. They deserve better, and Dolan has the track record that proves he is capable of far better than this.
Screen: Dolan’s authorial stamp is felt most vividly when Louis investigates a storage room containing his own possessions, and a flashback brings a moment of adolescent sexual discovery thrillingly to life. Soundtrack cuts have Dolan’s refreshingly anti-cool fingerprints all over them, from Blink 182 to Moby and horrifyingly catchy, defiantly cheesy 2004 Euro disco hit Dragostea Din Tei by O-Zone.

The Guardian: Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World is histrionic and claustrophobic: deliberately oppressive and pretty well pop-eyed in its madness – and yet a brilliant, stylised and hallucinatory evocation of family dysfunction: a companion piece in some ways to the epic shouting match that was Dolan’s earlier movie, Mommy. This is a pressure cooker of anxiety, a film with the dials turned up to 12. Watching it, listening to it, is like having your head in the speaker bin for a Motörhead concert.
Ioncinema: Unfortunately, what sounds like the sort of inspired melancholy material Dolan gravitates towards plays like a beautiful plate glass window shattered beyond repair nearly as soon as the opening credits end. Shrill, contrived, and hysterical, watching these accomplished actors stomping around in this swamp of insincerity is like being forced to enjoy the sound of nails scraping chalkboard until Moby’s voice wakes us and we drown.