Cannes Day 8: Defending Xavier Dolan

Gaspar Ulliel in Xavier Dolan's "It's Only the End of the World."

Gaspard Ulliel in Xavier Dolan’s “It’s Only the End of the World.”

I knew I’d be in the minority about French-Canadian director Xavier Dolan’s new film, “It’s Only the End of the World,” which premiered in competition Wednesday night.

I liked it, but it was savaged on Twitter moments after the press departed the Palais. It’s these kinds of things that are so disheartening, but part of the game these days.

What’s the movie about? A gay man returns home after a 12-year-absence to tell his mother, brother and sister that he’s going to die soon. It could be AIDS, or some other disease. It’s not specified. But the son, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel), is a successful playwright who’s gay, and it’s obvious that his brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel) is quite resentful of Louis and his success. Antoine makes tools for a living. Louis is featured in glossy magazines.

If you want to get literary, and that’s actually appropriate since the movie is adapted from a play by Jean-Luc Lagarce, it’s basically a story of The Prodigal Son who returns home but soon realizes that there’s no responsible adult parent. The father is dead. The mother (Nathalie Baye) is a kook. The older brother (Cassel) is vindictive; his wife (Marion Cotillard) is confused; and his sister Suzanne (Lea Seydoux) has never really known her brother well but is desperate to change things.

In case you didn’t notice, that’s an all-star French lineup of actors, and they’re quite good.

Most of the criticism has focused on the histrionics, the yelling, the claustrophobic scenes. But that’s typical of a play that’s being adapted into a film. (“Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” anyone?).

And yes, Dolan is gay, and yes, Dolan uses lots of closeups for Ulliel, whom he clearly thinks is gorgeous. But if you gotta pick a buy for closeups, you could do far worse than Ulliel. And that’s beside the point.

Here’s the deal. If you don’t think the controversial dialogue and rejection of the “prodigal son” is real, then you weren’t paying attention during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s onward. Many a “prodigal son” was rejected. And many went through this kind of scene.

So, the question is: Why are so many people hating this movie? Part of it probably has to do with Dolan’s early successes and his visual stylings. I’m sure many people will have reasoned judgments to contradict what I’ve said. That, too, is part of the game. But never underestimate envy.

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