DAYS OF DARKNESS Written and directed by Denys Arcand, with Marc Labrèche and Diane Kruger. An Odeon Films release. 104 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (March 21). Rating: NNNNN
You’d think winning an Academy Award would change your life forever. But director Denys Arcand, who picked up the golden guy for The Barbarian Invasions four years ago, shrugs it off.
“If you won an Oscar at 40 or 45, you’d probably get opportunities to work elsewhere and be swamped with offers,” he laughs. “In my case it was the opposite. I was suddenly enshrined as an icon, so people stopped sending me scripts. I think the feeling was ‘He does his little films in Montreal, so we’ll leave him there and see them when they come out.’”
The festival circuit and lead-up to the awards season orgy did, however, provide him with the inspiration for his latest film, Days Of Darkness, the last movie in the trilogy that began with The Decline Of The American Empire and continued with Invasions.
“I promoted The Barbarian Invasions for an entire year,” explains the director during a one-on-one at last year’s Film Festival.
“I was interviewed to death and I hated it,” he continues, looking up to assure me that he’s loving every minute of this talk.
“I don’t mind being interviewed for one or two days, but a whole year is gruelling. You just feel empty. You talk and don’t receive anything back; it’s not really a dialogue. So I started daydreaming.”
What Arcand came up with was a character who would love to be in his shoes, someone who’s never been listened to (by his wife, kids, colleagues) and suddenly becomes the centre of attention, microphones shoved in his face.
That was the basis for his anti-hero, Jean-Marc Leblanc (played by Quebecois comedian Marc Labrèche), a nebbishy civil servant whose fantasy life, like Walter Mitty’s decades before him, takes over. Euro beauty Diane Kruger plays his dream lover.
The film involves some dark undercurrents, including references to anti-Muslim hysteria and schoolyard violence.
These sequences, presented as testimonials to bureaucrat Leblanc, are played straight and are based on pure fact. In one, the wife of an Arab imprisoned because he’s a suspected terrorist comes to Leblanc to ask for help. The husband is based on Adil Charkaoui, who was thought to be an al Qaeda sleeper agent and was imprisoned for 21 months.
“I got involved in his case with a few other celebrities, and we finally got him out,” says Arcand. “There were no charges, nothing – it was just because he was Arab. He had gone to Afghanistan once. I put what his wife told me into the film verbatim.”
In another sequence, a schoolteacher tells Leblanc he’s terrified to go to work because a student is waiting for him in the schoolyard with an automatic rifle. Again, true.
“Life can be so unbearable,” says Arcand, “it’s no wonder people take refuge in fantasy.”
The comic scenes range from clever digs at political correctness to hysterically funny sexual come-ons.
“If only my films were more dramatic, I’d win more prizes,” sighs Arcand with mock seriousness. “Sometimes, especially at film festivals, people don’t know how to classify them.
“One French critic in Cannes told me he was insulted by the movie because he didn’t know what to call it, a comedy or tragedy. I told him, ‘Make of it what you want.’”
Additional Audio Clips
On casting Rufus Wainwright in the film's opening and closing sequences:
On directing and slowing down: