JWR Articles: Film/DVD - Days of Darkness (Director/Writer: Denys Arcand) - January 12, 2008
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Days of Darkness

L’Âge des ténèbres

3 3
104 min.

Reviewed at the 2008 Palm Springs International Film Festival
Early triumph devolves into trite tale

The first third of Denys Arcand’s final installment into the life and loves Monsieur Everyman is a marvel of creativity firing on all cylinders and filmmaking of the highest order. The perpetually late Jean-Marc Leblanc (a character that truly belongs to Marc Labrèche, filled with nuance and understanding no matter what he’s asked to do) is a bored, mid-rank Québec civil servant. Tellingly, his office overlooks Montréal’s monument to overspending (the Olympic Stadium, a.k.a. The Big Owe). Above the field of dreams, he interviews but never seems able to help his fellow citizens as they turn to their government for assistance. This work environment pays homage to Gogol with every frame. On breaks, Leblanc joins his co-workers (purposely a lesbian and black-Canadian) for an illicit smoke (a government edict forbids any puffing within a mile; fortunately the smoke police are just as efficient as the bureaucrats). But he is brought up on charges by an over-zealous office manager when overheard talking to William (Didier Lucien makes his small part a gem) and naturally enough, the burly man of colour is likened to a Negro which William doesn’t try to hide. Turns out the Québec word-police (er, hello there 1984) have banned that “N” word and in an equally small way, “midget.”

Throughout his interviews with clients, staff meetings and interrogations Leblanc’s over-active imagination lifts his spirits, unloved member (the last time he had sex with anyone but the palm sisters was a year-and-a-half ago) and ego. Beautiful babes (notably Diane Kruger—think I Dream of Jeannie with bed privileges and an attitude) lust for him, the public cheers his many accomplishments, and if you fuck with him, heads will truly roll.

The intercuts, phantom dissolves (his now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t spectacles speak volumes about how we are perceived by others) and tight pacing are a joy to behold.

Sadly, Arcand—the more he delves into Leblanc’s home life—loses the magic. Wife Sylvie (Sylvie Léonard) is a tireless real estate agent who gets wet more from the prospect of another top sales award than fulfilling her conjugal duties. Two precocious daughters do well in their “whatever” tone in the early going but morph into different people with the late-inning blow job and “Here’s your porn, Dad” moments. Both actions seem contrived to make points about the failed father, but we’ve stopped caring a while back.

This fantastic film begins its descent into the ordinary when Sylvie moves to Toronto for franchise training and sack time with her company’s CEO. Undaunted, Leblanc goes on the prowl (hilariously at a speed-dating party) before ending up in a medieval castle jousting with the Black Prince. The comedy soon slips into a confusing blend of Monty Python (where were the coconuts?) and the Three Stooges—complete with the Prince’s bell being truly rung to save Leblanc’s skin and pride.

From there on out, the production continues to lose steam and focus as the long goodbye staggers uneasily to its conclusion.

On the plus side is the inclusion of Les Violons du Roy for much of the music. The timbre and verve of a well-balanced, energetic string orchestra is welcome on every occasion—if only the wandering troubadour (who appears like bookends in the prelude and prologue) could match their sure intonation and well-crafted tone. Ah well, even critics must be allowed some fantasies. JWR

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Director/Writer - Denys Arcand
Cinematography - Guy Dufaux
Editor - Isabelle Dedieux
Original Music - Philippe Miller
Further information, future screening/performance/exhibition dates,
purchase information, production sponsors:
IFC Films Palm Springs International Film Festival
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