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It’s only 'It’s Only the End of the World'

Josh here, reflecting on the backlash against Xavier Dolan now he’s seen It’s Only the End of the World at the Sydney Film Festival

In what must be a true sign of success, Xavier Dolan was booed and savaged by critics at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year when his latest film It’s Only the End of the World premiered. The reaction was swift not just against his film, but against the filmmaker himself. Dolan address this, and reacted strongly to The Playlist which remarked “It's simply impossible to believe that a story this stridently self-pitying could not refer, more or less explicitly, to writer/director Dolan himself… It suggests a level of martyred self-involvement on Dolan's part that is tantamount to a persecution complex”. This was just one of many vicious reactions online and especially on twitter, against the film but then, in turn, against Dolan for defending himself against criticism.

The apparent taboo of a filmmaker reading, and responding to a critic was a major sore point. As though a critic should get the final word. It’s hard here not to recall the brilliant monologue from Ratatouille...

The bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

Dolan and his films are not immune to criticism, but there was, as with many other films at Cannes this year, a licking of lips through snarled teeth about bringing films down. Booing was reportedly in full swing at the festival. Of course Dolan ended up winning the Grand Prix for his much maligned film and the vitriol was increased and spread to the jury, particularly George Miller and Kirsten Dunst.

Dolan's new BFF Jessica Chastain did come to his defence, agreeing with New York Times Mark Harris.


The important thing to note here is that the majority of people tweeting and retweeting about the film hadn’t seen it.

It’s Only the End of the World has been greeted by an audience at a second festival now, at the Sydney Film Festival. Once again the reaction is mixed. That is not a problem, and everyone’s response and opinion is valid. But Dolan has from the outset been a director who has swung big and made bold choices when making films, and confident film-making like that is never going to work for everyone. The personal take down of a young queer filmmaker, who despite his success has never had major distribution, awards season profiling, or been involved in a major controversy, seems bizarre. Perhaps it's a case of tall poppies syndrome, but before the poppy has had a chance to grow tall.

His latest sits comfortably alongside his other films, melodrama grounded by well-paced dialogue, and dynamite performances. As with the closeted son in I Killed My Mother, the love triangle in Heartbeats, the secrets in Tom at the Farm, and the dystopic law in Mommy, It’s Only the End of World has it’s gun in the first act set to go off; Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) returns home with the intention of announcing his imminent death. There is the familiar in these fractured family dynamics, and there is the universal is the full spectrum of emotions on display.

The big moments come crashing down with an emotional gut punch, and they’ve been earned. Marion Cotillard was highlighted as a weak link in early reviews, but that may only be because her character is the shrinking violet amongst the brutal family, and Lea Seydoux walks away with the film. Dolan's flair for musically driven montage is back again. It’s no wonder he was picked to create the video for Adele’s return mega hit Hello. They work in his masterful hands, beautifully evoking nostalgia and intangible memories. 

Where this film differs is in the closeness. Both in the tightness of the frames close to the characters face that irked many at Cannes, and tight in its focus on its characters. His previous films felt small but operatic in their expanse. Here the claustrophic drama barely escapes the walls of the house; it's not a comfortable watch. The emotional gut punch doesn’t side swipe you. You see it coming from a mile away but you can only brace for the inevitable impact. It’s chaotic, melancholic and bitter. Like it’s supposed to be.

People will make their minds up about the film when its all-star cast ironically brings the film to the widest distribution his films have yet had. No, it's not the towering achievement that Mommy was, but even if the whole world hates this film, can’t we all root for the future of this filmmaker?

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Reader Comments (21)

I'm rooting for him. I've seen all of his films last year and the man is truly one of the best working today.

June 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteven

He's six films in. Five or six films in is the point where most directors (especially directors like this) try out a wildly different genre. So, I can't say I don't get the resentment. On top of that: He has said James Cameron's TITANIC was one of the earliest movies that inspired him to be a filmmaker. You say that (and say that you're not that influenced by other directors (that does show)) and you have no ideas of what your dream tentpole ($100 million plus movie) might be? Because...I wanna see that. Certainly more than sequels to Jurassic World or Prometheus.

June 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

By all means let us all have a bit more tolerance, I have sat through films by Haneke, Von Trier, and Tarantino that I have been dubious about. Cinema isn't necessarily comfort food.
And we are all entitled to our preferences.

Critics may not like Dolan's reactions, but at least he isn't a male film director afraid to work with women, and capable of justifying his sexism in any number of different ways.

June 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

LadyEdith: Off topic, but I got through script two and am working on script three on that project. The pieces are falling into place. To give an idea? Film 1: 282 pages. Film 2: Thankfully, only 141 pages. Film 3: On Page 46. Probably looking at anywhere from 140-170 pages.

June 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Hey! I really enjoyed those reviews. Takedowns are fun :

June 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

I wasn't much of a fan of IT'S ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD; I too saw it at Sydney Film Fest. But I appreciated the performances - esp. Marion Cotillard. I think the biggest problem with the film was the source material. There were powerful moments but ultimately I felt there wasn't enough at stake for the characters to justify all that bickering and heightened emotion so the ending felt like a letdown.

But I agree with you about the unnecessarily hostile reaction to Dolan at Cannes. I was similarly uncomfortable about the vitriol that Sam Smith attracted over 'Writing's on the Wall'. Fine, you don't like the song, but why attack the singer so viciously? Seemed way out of proportion.

June 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

I managed to catch this at the Sydney Film Festival as well. It's definitely one of Dolan's lesser efforts, particularly coming off the back of Mommy, which I think is a masterpiece. I think it's going to be re-evaluated in years to come. The performances are OTT, but all excellent, with the MVP being Seydoux. The film is bad taste in many ways, and suffocating to watch, but to say that it is a bad film is ridiculous. It's very well written, acted and directed, and faithful in tone and visual style, and also left me with much desire to see how his English language debut turns out.

The one thing that took me out of the film at times was the music. The score is so overbearing and distracting at times; I absolutely know what Dolan was going for, but it is kind of relentless which I found quite distracting and spoon feeding at times.

June 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew

Volvagia - Kudos to you - (I've been wondering how it was going...) cheers!

June 13, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I've only seen Mommy and it was horrible. Not anticipating his Chastain, Bates, Sarandon vehicle so much. Curious what each actress will look like in it though.

June 13, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

I recently binge-watched everything Dolan has directed except this film in a 48-hour time period, and it convinced me that this guy is the next Fassbinder. And Fassbinder happens to be my all-time favorite director.

What I mean to say: I'm eagerly anticipating this film. And even if it should not work for me, it wouldn't put me off him. Heck, this guy made a sweeping three-hour epic in a period setting at age 23!

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMrW

In my opinion, there is a huge difference between growing up in a destroyed country and being a working class French-Canadian, which is A LOT of privilege.

Fassbinder made movies and plays about the brutality of human relations with a potent political dimension. Dolan makes movies about hysteric people with loud pop music and instagram-like colors.

I hate Dolan and Fassbinder is one of my favorite directors, I see nothing in common.

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Saw it in Cannes and I hated it!

The film's main flaw is its all-star cast. It felt like each actor did a pretty good job on their own (Ulliel is wonderful and Seydoux is on fire) but when they were confronted to one another there was a blatant lack of chemistry. I know they're supposed to be a dysfunctional family but come on... they didn't feel like a family in the first place.

The other problem, if that makes any sense, is that this movie came up right after the huge shock that "Mommy" was for most people. Maybe I had the wrong expectations? I wanted to be moved to tears, to feel uncomfortable, to laugh... and I was just bored through most of the movie. And I can definitely understand and respect that Dolan wanted his next project to be different, but where was the emotion? I loved every one of his previous films ("Laurence Anyways" being my absolute favorite) and for once I felt like I could understand why some people dislike him so much, it's as though this movie was just a caricature of his own idiosyncrasies.

Imho "The Neon Demon" and "Ma Loute" were far more deserving of the Jury's Grand Prize.

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterFrench_Toast

Great read here. I will see anything Dolan does. His offerings to date have been so interesting and creative that the bar is set quite high. This one is possibly a let down ... who knows? But I am positive that more thought and creativity went into this film than most of the things out there. He won't hit a home run every time. But that's to be expected. He's still great.

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

I found the film... fine. I didn't think it was deserving of the vitriol, but neither is it comparable quality-wise to his other films (although I've read a few five star opinions so there you go). The characters are all ever so over-boiled to their most prominent trait (Cotillard's meekness, Baye's quirkiness, Cassel's anger) and it plays like a game of expectation where nothing ever really comes of all the talk. I also feel like, perhaps, Dolan's age really shone through here as a negative. Like he didn't quite have the personal connection to AIDS that the original material is about.

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Glenn Dunks: As I said earlier, I think what mostly caused the vitriol is more tied to the repetition of tone, genre and scale than the film's actual objective quality. Dolan needs to make a comedy, or an action movie, or a horror film or SOMETHING that's not his perceived "norm".

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Elizabeth Taylor once referred to this kind of personal celebrity reaction as the yo-yo theory of fame: people build you up, then they tear you down.

That said, I've had mixed reactions to the two Dolan films I saw: I Killed My Mother and Laurence Anyways. Dolan's great with his actors and is not afraid to go there emotionally. But both Dolan films dragged on after awhile and felt more than a bit overwrought.

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterrick gould

Haven't loved a Dolan film since the first but I've appreciated the obvious talent and artistry behind the others. I can't imagine that this movie deserved all the booing, it's undoubtedly a reaction to Dolan himself, who is not someone I'd want to spend much time with. Still this years' Cannes really seemed like a mess, even by it's own standards.

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

I have this love/hate thing for Dolan... Sometimes even a little jealousy, taking a lot of my tastes and throwing them together and creating, admittedly, some gripping stuff.

I don't think he should be exalted, though, since, and this is my opinion, nothing that he's done, save for Tom at the Farm, truly showed a director coming into his own: in the films I've seen of his, he still seems to be exorcising all the great auteurs he admires in a very everything-but-the-kitchen-sink way, and though it makes for mostly entertaining cinema... He is not the second coming a lot of people seem to be thinking he is.

I mean, Heartbeats is just Canadian Almodóvar pastiche with some Nouvelle Vague confessionals intermixed between the melodrama.

Spread your wings, Dolan! You have actual talent, stop trying to make fetch happen, and just let you happen!

I will say, his smiling always looks pretty smug. Haha! Sorry, just had to put it out there.

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterManny

I think the problem was that it all played out as a narcissistic crisis for Mr Dolan. It was as if he was expecting the usual over the top raves and then when critics were disappointed he went into crisis mode and it became a director vs critics fight. Very very ugly to watch. Not at all why real movie lovers go to the movies. He is a young melodramatic man and NO ONE has time for that. The fact that he is gay was brought up many times but that is wholly unnecessary and uncalled for. Homosexuality had nothing to do with why he was attacked so viciously. It was really his childish reaction to the criticism. A couple of years earlier, Nicole Kidman and her movie were booed at Cannes. She handled the questions about it with grace and elegance. She explained that all work is good work and the project is the project and some projects fail. That is the mature adult way of handling vicious criticism. The whole " I'm going to quit directing" narrative was so cheesy and ugly to watch. I have not seen the movie nor will I see it. But I know how I feel about Dolan the celebrity.

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

I saw it at Sydney too, and though I personally did not like it, I do really enjoy Dolan's other films and look forward to what else he's got in him. To me at least, "It's Only the End of the World" was trying too hard to be a Major Film, and it just didn't make the necessary character connections (with the exception of Seydoux, who was incredible). Every filmmaker needs to make a dud at some point just to grow as an artist and manage expectations. It's probably best that Dolan's happened at this point in his career, when he's established his creative personality but still has room to mature. If that makes sense.

June 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJason H.

I think that everyone has to think twice about this movie before judging.
He is not going to die, it's actually the end of the world!
And he came back to his family to express his regrets for being away all that time.
The movie is full of symbols and hidden messages, especially at the end with everyone in the last scene being sweaty and not being able to breathe then comes the dying bird.
That's why his older brother snaps when he's about to tell the family about the reason of his visit..

April 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKinda

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