Dear Jean-Luc Lagarce,
It’s all over now, I know. Your struggle finished on September 30th 1995, when you took your last breath. But let’s pretend your death was fictional and it was not the end of the world. If you could only peep from your coffin and read my letter. There are some good news for you.
Your play has been turned into a film! Before you write back to me, perhaps saying you have no interest in cinema, and that very own your life was a tribute to theatre, let me tell you a little bit more. Now your work is universal. Your script was handed to a prodigy French-Canadian filmmaker. He is just 27 and he’s done some terrific films, such as Laurence Anyways (2012), Tom at The Farm (2013) and Mommy (2014). Xavier Dolan is an excellent auteur, who takes excellent care of every single detail. He writes his stories, sometimes he acts, he has ideas for the costume designer and director of photography, and he even creates the props. You should see it as an honour that Dolan developed an interest in someone else’s writing.
In fact, Jean-Luc, Dolan didn’t connect to It’s Only The End of The World at first. He read the play, a suggestion made by the lead role in Mommy, Anne Dorval, and he abandoned the idea of filming it. It was only after meeting Marion Cottilard, Vincent Cassel and Léa Seydoux in Cannes two years ago that he realised they could be a fantastic cast for your play. You cannot foresee, Jean-Luc, what a masterclass in acting they deliver. You might say Léa Seydoux is a top model, but she is perfect for the role of a tomboy! Together with Nathalie Baye and Gaspard Ulliel, they embellish and give an extra dimension to your writing.
Do not worry about the authenticity of the film. Your nervous words are in the film. Dolan knew perfectly well that one of the strongest aspects of the film is the conversation between all members of the family, and all that is left behind because they are incapable of expressing it. Everyone in the house instinctively acknowledges that Louis (Ulliel) has a good reason to return to his hometown after 12 years, but they cannot guess that he is dying. Not him of all people, the successful writer who had the courage of leaving the toxic family. And when Dolan found that it was necessary to include a scene that was not originally in your play, he emulated your style. If you read it, you’d probably think his words are yours.
But a film is not a play, you might say, you can look at the landscape and get distracted. The tension is gone. Well, Jean-Luc, this is why Dolan explores close-ups ad nauseam. The intimate study of your characters are on their faces. Take the ride with Antoine (Cassel), when he tries to get closer to the brother he envies. There is fury in his eyes, in his hands, even in his ears. He cannot even listen to his brother Louis. Louis is the symbol of freedom, of all Antoine wanted and could never get, though in reality this freedom is about to end abruptly.
What about the melancholy? Is it in the film, too? Yes, it’s in its colours, predominantly blue. And in the props – the photo album, the postcards -, in the desire to revisit the house they lived as children, in the tragic revelation that Louis’s first lover has died of cancer.
Remarkably, the film is not sad. It’s centred on a celebration. The family is waiting for the prodigious revenant. The soundtrack contributes to it. Dolan picks up one of the most kitsch Brazilian songs ever made, Latino’s ‘Festa no Apê‘, and uses it in a magical scene in which all of them surrender to joy.
Jean-Luc, I wish you could see this picture. It won the Grand Prix in Cannes and it was in BFI London Film Festival in October 2016, when this piece was originally published. It’s now out in cinemas, and also the the BFI Flare London LGBT Film Festival – just click here for more information.
Jean-Luc Lagarce (14 February 1957 – 30 September 1995) was a French actor, theatre director and playwright. Although only moderately successful during his lifetime, since his death he has become the one of the most widely-produced contemporary French playwrights.
Xavier Dolan’s It’s Only the End of the World is on Mubi from December 30th, 2020.