After 12 years of absence, a writer named Louis Knipper (Gaspard Ulliel) goes back to his hometown, planning on announcing his upcoming death to his family. As resentment soon rewrites the course of the afternoon, fits and feuds unfold, fuelled by bitterness and fear, while all attempts of empathy are sabotaged by people’s incapacity to listen, and love. (Courtesy of eOne Films Canada)
This is a first for me since I haven’t yet reviewed a foreign language film. The special thing about this one is that its language, French, is not foreign to me since I happen to be fluent. This film is a Canadian/French production written and directed by Canadian director Xavier Dolan who I am familiar with although I have not had the chance to see any of his films, until now. What better time to start anyway?
The story is about a terminally ill writer named Louis Knipper (Ulliel) who decides to back to his hometown after 12 years to meet his family and announce his death to his family which included his mother (Nathalie Baye), his sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux), and his brother Antonie (Vincent Cassel) and his wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard). Things don’t go as planned for Louis as he must deal with his family’s resentment and general dysfunction coming from him not being there for the last 12 years.
They’ve already lost one family member and him leaving was like they lost another and don’t know how to deal with him being back. Because of this, Louis’s plan takes a backseat as he attempts to reconnect with his family. The family is definitely hurting and each have their own problems and the plot handles each character differently with each character having their own private scenes with Louis, allowing more of their individual personalities to shine. It would have been nice to see more. Over this time, he grows closer to them thus making it harder to tell them the truth.
The plot was fairly simple, mostly taking place in one house. It was also mostly dialogue driven and the way of the shot were used to convey the range of emotions felt by the characters. This was done using subtle elements such as close-ups catching the way they would look at each other or how they would talk to one another in certain situations. Watching these interactions was great and their collective rollercoaster journey was very compelling.
What made it all fun to watch were the performances by everyone. The chemistry between them made their family dynamic feel more believable and added more power to all the emotional scenes. The problem with the film was that it lacked any real character development in that none of the characters, besides Louis, ever went anywhere. Also the music often didn’t fit and was distracting.
Overall, this was a deep, powerful family drama, elevated by terrific performances but could have been deeper.