Days of Darkness (2007) dir. Denys Arcand
Starring: Marc Lebreche, Diane Kruger, Sylvie Leonard, Caroline Neron
Denys Arcand has always seemed to be a hit and miss director, and lately just can’t seem to make two good movies in a row. After the Academy Award winning “Barbarian Invasions”, Arcand has followed up with another intellectual comedy, but without a solid narrative focus, which results in a film as lost as it’s main character.
The film opens on a slightly annoying serenade by singer Rufus Wainwright. He's seducing a woman (Diane Kruger) with a sultry (and very winy) song. This is one of many dream sequences we’ll see coming from Jean-Marc Leblanc – a hapless civil servant living in a Montreal suburb. Jean-Marc is married to Sylvie, a career-minded real estate agent who prefers the company of her blackberry to Jean-Marc and his two daughters have just hit the age where they don’t want anything to do with him. So Jean-Marc retreats into a series of fantasy lives and relationships. He has three fantasy girlfriends – Diane Kruger, who plays, I think, Diane Kruger, or is it Veronica? (i forget), his lesbian co-worker, and a TV journalist.
As Jean-Marc goes about his days at his loathsome Government desk job listening to complaints from distressed citizens his mind wanders playing out his idealized life. Jean-Marc aspires to be a famous writer and a sex God desired by all women. But when he realizes he can’t live in his fantasies, Jean-Marc's only respite is to leave his home and retreat to his family cottage, which recalls the last joyous period in his life.
Arcand is on fire in the first third of the film. He sets up a future world we’ve never seen before. Arcand portrays a near future of Montreal as a world close to apocalyptic crumble, either from the paranoid-inducing viruses which rage in the air, or under the crush of the enlarging bureaucratic government. Canadians, and Montrealers in particular, will catch several inside jokes, specifically that white elephant of a building, the Olympic Stadium, which in the film is used as office space for the expanding Quebec Civil Service. Arcand crafts some wonderfully hilarious banter among Jean-Marc’s co-workers, his family and his fantasy family - politically astute and satirically scathing.
Unfortunately this inspired story relaxes and peters out once we realize Arcand has nothing further to say about saccharine middle class life than we’ve seen in other similar films - ie. "American Beauty" or "Little Children". The second act is a series of lengthy fantasies which lead nowhere and only extend the running time. Specifically the Medieval jousting sequence is drawn out way beyond the other sequences, and at the end we’re left with nothing to push the story forward.
Arcand’s films always provoke conversation and “Days of Darkness” will do exactly that, but for the wrong reasons. You’ll ask yourself what went wrong with this clever near-future fantasy intellectual dissertation and what exactly is his point?