From director Xavier Dolan (who also wrote the screenplay based on Jean-Luc Legarce’s play) comes an extreme-close-up study of, perhaps, the most dysfunctional family in the world.
According to Mom (a brilliant performance by Nathalie Bayle) youngest son Louis (Gaspard Ulliel’s expressive visage and “hesitato” delivery are ideal for the challenging part), “does what he has to do.”
After a twelve-year, self-imposed exile from the family roost, the 34-year-old playwright returns to his small-town Québec home with some life-altering news. Most curiously, this man—who earns a living putting words into the mouths of others—can’t find a way of scripting his own.
In many ways not a movie but a filmed series of dialogues (not surprising of course, given the source material), this production will send a puzzled few to an early exit (as was the case at this screening) but leave the vast majority of viewers quietly mesmerized—many of those, no doubt wondering just when their family’s particular skeletons might be revealed.
The rest of the cast is equally skilled. Playing elder, perpetually angry brother, Antoine, Vincent Cassel provides a master class in covering true emotions with searing outbursts intended to control and/or humiliate all of those around him so that his own mask won’t be ripped away (when that moment does come, the collective dramatic shudder on both sides of the screen is palpable and will remain in consciousness long after the credits are done). Younger sister Suzanne (so different now than when Louis abandoned his kin) is portrayed with grit and a fine madness by Léa Seydoux.
Catherine, as Antoine’s wife and, accordingly, the outsider becomes the catalyst in understanding and revelation even as she endures her hubby’s grotesque taunts and is meeting Louis of the first time. This pivotal character from Legarce has a most worthy advocate in the marvellously nuanced rendering by Marion Cotillard.
And by the time the cuckoo clock finally comes to life, Dolan’s genius for framing the conversations and imagery takes off in full flight. It’s filmmaking of a high order indeed. JWR