Constant turmoil, fear, and insecurity are just a few of the themes in Xavier Dolan’s sixth film, Juste la Fin du Monde. The Montreal-born director’s film made its first appearance at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, winning a multitude of awards and receiving high praise. The film is based on the play of the same name, written by late French playwright Jean-Luc Lagarce. Juste la Fin du Monde is currently under consideration for the 89th Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language film.
After 12 long years, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), a homosexual playwright, returns to his hometown with plans to disclose his diagnosis of a terminal illness to his family. A lack of empathy, constant feuds among family members, and feelings of loneliness alter Louis’ intentions, and inevitably make the task of sharing his news impossible.
Louis’ unnamed mother (Nathalie Baye) is initially ecstatic that Louis has returned to his hometown. She perfects the house, her clothing, makeup, and food, for the occasion. However, her darker and less elegant side is revealed during a private conversation with Louis in the backyard shed. She has reverted to smoking when dealing with stress. Her chat with Louis, which begins as a loving moment between mother and son, quickly turns into an aggressive interrogation as to why Louis even bothered coming home.
Then there’s Antoine (Vincent Cassel), Louis’ older brother. At first, he makes no effort to welcome Louis. He never fails to verbally assault a family member, and is even pushed to the point where he nearly physically assaults his younger brother. His outbursts of anger appear sporadically throughout the film. They increase in intensity each time until a climactic moment during the final moments of the film.
Antoine’s wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard), on the other hand, is soft-spoken. She constantly looks to her husband for approval to talk about family matters. Through Catherine, the audience sees the most intimate and beautiful conversations with Louis. She reminds Louis how important he is to Antoine. You can’t help but wish that Catherine was never a part of this family feud in the first place.
Louis has never met his sister, Suzanne (Léa Seydoux), as she was born after he left to pursue his writing career. Suzanne is excited to meet her brother at the beginning. Yet, she slowly reveals her insecurities and distaste for her family’s actions. She’s bitter and angry because of how Antoine treats her. She was hoping that with Louis’ arrival, she’d have a better brother to confide in.
Juste la Fin du Monde traps the viewer into the constant arguments and feuds that ultimately force Louis to stay quiet. Although the film focuses on a small familial dispute, it leads you to believe that nothing else matters in the world except the events on screen. In one scene, Louis shares a moment with each family member. Each one, except for Catherine, prevents his opportunity to speak. When he’s finally asked about his life, he struggles to put words together.
This film’s beauty mainly lies in its close-ups of characters throughout the film. As if witnessing the yelling between family members wasn’t enough, Dolan ensures that the viewer is extremely uncomfortable and claustrophobic with the film’s events through these close-ups. We enter the minds of the characters, and share the same emotions that Louis experiences as he is forced to listen to his family’s constant arguing.
The constant close-ups forced me to watch every wrinkle on their faces. The film kept me on edge the entire time, and never failed to grab my attention. I was waiting for the moment where Louis would blow up and just scream to his entire family that he was dying. But that never happens. There’s too much resentment among the family. The feuds of the family overwhelm Louis’ internal one.
Juste la Fin du Monde is beautiful, from its visuals to the writing. This film evoked an immense amount of emotion from within me, and kept me wanting more. Dolan excels at making the audience become a part of the family in the most uncomfortable ways possible. We all, in a sense, become Louis; we’re too afraid to say anything, but we have enough anger boiling inside that we just want to leave and let the family deal with their problems, while we deal with our own.