The prolific, impressively young Xavier Dolan’s preceding endeavour was his finest yet, the indelible, irresistible drama Mommy, a film that contained a lot of shrieking, and yet amidst the emotional, piercing shouting matches, you always felt you could hear every single word. His latest, the curiously self-pitying It’s Only the End of the World, also features screaming – and lots of it – and yet in this instance you feel as though you aren’t actually catching a word, it’s just one big muffled mess.

In what seems to be a self-referential piece, Dolan casts Gaspard Ulliel as Louis, a terminally ill playwright returning back home for the first time in over a decade, with the intention of telling his family that he’s dying. Upon his arrival he’s met with the principle shrieker, his eccentric mother (Nathalie Baye), and his cynical sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux). His older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel) seems somewhat more disinterested and resentful at the whole situation, often caught pensively looking out of his nearest window – while his timid wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard) is to meet Louis for the very first time. It’s likely to be the last too, and yet his news remains internalised, as the gaunt, dreary-eyed man struggles to muster up the courage to share his predicament with his family.

It's Only the End of the WorldThere’s a puerile, almost perverse fantasy in people, mostly in misunderstood youths, to wish away your own existence simply to spite others, and this title feels emblematic of this notion. Dolan is a remarkably talented filmmaker, there can be no denying that, but his latest is self-indulgent in its approach, lacking severely in emotional gravitas. To have such a distance between the viewer and the narrative, and such a distinct disengagement with the story is quite striking given the fact we’re dealing with a protagonist who is dying. To have no real feelings for Louis is not the fault of Ulliel as such, but instead of an underwritten screenplay, with no character development, no defining characteristics, no charisma. Granted he’s terminally ill, so you would hardly expect a wise-cracking charmer as the lead, but at the very least somebody we can emotionally invest in.

The distinct lack of back-story doesn’t help matters either, with the minimal context jarring, albeit intended to provide a provocative sense of ambiguity. The feeling of a melodrama, which seems purposefully implemented, makes for a tonally frustrating film too, as you crave a more naturalistic approach in parts, where Dolan instead opts for style, absentmindedly ignoring the substance. The soundtrack is good, mind – but after the sheer brilliance of Mommy, the music selection really shouldn’t be the film’s crowning feature.

It’s Only the End of the World is released on February 24th.