Denys Arcand Strikes Back
As the marketing campaign for L’âge des ténèbres heated up, Denys Arcand took a crack at neutralizing the hostility that has dogged his new movie. Signs of fatigue appearing just below his usual devil-may-care persona, Arcand brushed off the critics who have pummelled the film since it screened at the Cannes Film Festival and bombed at the French box-office.
On the hugely popular TV show, Tout le monde en parle (Everybody’s Talking about It), Arcand joked about the nasty attacks he’s endured throughout his career. Even his breakthrough hit, Decline of the American Empire, was blasted by some French critics, one of whom called him "an idiot." As for Quebec film pundits, Arcand accused them of being fashion slaves who heap exaggerated praise on directors and then trash them when they are no longer deemed à la mode. This fickle treatment deflated the careers of legendary auteurs like Claude Jutra, Francis Mankiewicz, and Marc-André Forcier.
Arcand's television appearance, and a cover story interview in the magazine L’Actualité, came just before his picture's gala premiere in Montreal's Place des Arts. The Oscar-winning filmmaker, who has little respect for the chattering class, found himself in an absurd posture: rebutting complaints about his work.
Summoning as much patience as he could muster, Arcand explained the obvious: his movie about a schmendrick who escapes from his dismal life via fantasies of sex and celebrity, is a critique of 21st century life in the industrialized world.
I'm not an embittered cynic, Arcand keeps repeating; the aberrations the film depicts are commonplace in reality. Quebec government agencies actually do throw money at feng shui office makeovers, complete with crystals to promote positive energy. And Arcand insists that the picture’s much disparaged "medieval" episode is a logical component of his satirical picture. In the lengthy sequence, the film's non-hero hooks up with obsessive escapists who pretend they're living in the Middle Ages.
In keeping with the movie’s wacky history, the Days of Darkness premiere was complemented by the early debut of winter. A howling storm on the night of December 3 dumped more snow than a person from a sane climate sees in a lifetime. Despite the sloppy mess, a big crowd showed up at Place des Arts and applauded Arcand’s producer and wife Denise Robert when she praised them for having the guts to "brave nature and the criticism."
As first reported by Northernstars.ca, Robert was also pleased that Days made it onto the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's list of 61 movies being considered for a Golden Globes best foreign film nomination, but no doubt dissapointed when it failed to make the final cut. Days lost out to 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days; The Kite Runner; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Lust, Caution, and Persepolis.
Booked into 82 theatres across Quebec, Days of Darkness did get to open the Whistler Film Festival in early December, perhaps a harbinger of a shift in the movie's fate. The principals behind Arcand's film definitely breathed a sigh of relief when it brought in decent returns on its opening weekend. The 82 screens yielded $281,751, a per-screen average of $3,436. These numbers are far less majestic than the box office take for Arcand's Barbarian Invasions, but under the circumstances, nobody is complaining. Even before the launch, Patrick Roy, President of Alliance Vivafilm, the movie's distributor, believed that the tide was turning for Arcand.
To honour the film, Radio Canada broadcast a TV show called L’âge des ténèbres, sur le plateau de Denys Arcand. The program featured an on set scrapbook assembled by Camille Léonard-Rioux, who made her screen acting debut in the picture as one of the unhappy protagonist’s teenage daughters.
Naturally, right up to launch date, the Quebec media continued to snap at the project. In the Montreal Daily, La Presse, rabble-rousing journalist Nathalie Petrowski accused Alliance Vivafilm of sabotaging Days of Darkness. Patrick Roy and Chief Exec Guy Gagnon the most successful distribution team in Quebec leapt to their own defence, arguing in La Presse that Petrowski failed to understand the wisdom of their strategy.
Even if Days of Darkness succeeds at the Quebec box office, it is unlikely to match the tally for the year’s biggest hit, Les Trois P’Tits Cochons (The Three L’il Pigs). Influenced by movies like Ricardo Trogi’s Horloge Biologique (Dodging the Clock), Cochons gauges emotional and sexual turbulence in its ensemble of characters.
The "three pigs" of the title are brothers with amusingly contrasting personalities. Christian (Guillaume Lemay Thivierge, who also stars in the speedy action hit Nitro), is a hedonistic quasi-slacker; Martin (Claude Legault) suffers the indignities of a harassed family man; and executive class Remi (Paul Doucet) runs his life like the in control kind of guy he seems to be.
The trigger event that unleashes various infidelities, deceptions, and eventual self-questionings is the near death of the trio’s mother (France Castel). Like Decline and Horloge, the movie's first approach to its self-absorbed characters is flippant comedy, followed by a segué into the melancholy drama of sad revelations.
Written by Pierre Lamothe and Claude Lalonde, coproduced by Christian Larouche (recently named producer of the year by the trade paper Playback), Cochons is the directorial debut of the multi-talented Patrick Huard. One of Quebec's best known comedians and actors, Huard not only came up with the story for Bon Cop Bad Cop, he played opposite Colm Fiore in the most financially successful Canadian movie ever made.
Lately, Huard himself has been displaying a little pigginess. For one thing, he refused to get on a plane for the Cinéma du Quebec à Paris, a marketing and networking event that opened with a screening of his film, because the ticket the cultural agency SODEC bought him was in "sardine class."
During the same period, Huard complained that he earned a paltry $17000 from $3 million in Bon Cop Bad Cop DVD sales, dissed Christian Larouche’s attempts to sell French re-make rights to Cochons, and boycotted the picture's DVD launch because it had not completely ended its theatrical run. His next big release will be the horror comedy, Cadavres, directed by Erik Canuel, the rambunctious genre specialist who made Bon Cop Bad Cop.
While the p’tits cochons endeared themselves to Quebec viewers, Émile Gaudreault's Surviving my Mother crashed after three weeks in numerous theatres, earning about $200 thousand. The dramedy’s failure shocked the industry because Mambo Italiano, Gaudreault's previous collaboration with writer Steve Galluccio and Denise Robert's company, Cinemaginaire, was a Pan-Canadian success story. Interestingly, although Surviving is an English-language production, the movie did better in dubbed French than in its original version. Both language groups were far more captivated by American Gangster, Bee Movie, and Saw IV, which defied conventional wisdom about the box-office demise of "torture porn."
A less mainstream picture, Carole Laure's La Capture, also came and went fast. The most lubriciously seductive star in Quebec film history, Laure eventually morphed into a writer-director of dark primal dramas like Les Fils de Marie (2001) and 2004's CQ2 (Seek You Too). In La Capture, a young woman carries out an extreme act of behaviour modification when she kidnaps her abusive father to adjust his attitude toward her mother and teenage brother. In this Quebec-French copro, the picture's monstrous patriarch is played by French actor Laurent Lucas, a man with a genius for toggling between fearful vulnerability and blood-curdling menace.
Meanwhile, venerated filmmaker Fernand Dansereau's La Brunante, a road movie about Alzheimer’s Disease, and Stéphane Lafleur's Continental A Film without Guns earned modest returns. A deadpan dark comedy, Continental has been on a roll since its debut at the Venice Film Festival, winning awards at the Toronto International Film Festival, the International Festival of Francophone Films in Namur, Belgium, and the Whistler Film Festival. At the latter event, a jury guided by Atom Egoyan named Continental best Canadian film. By the end of November, La Brunante and Continental topped Canada's box-office.
Not Bon Cop Bad Cop
A recent statistical survey by the l’Observatoire de la culture et des communications du Québec shows that while Bon Cop Bad Cop may be the highest grossing movie ever made here, number one in popularity is Charles Binamé's Un homme et son péché (A Man and His Sin). The 2002 film drew 1,341,602 spectators, compared to BCBC's 1,318,801.
Three Denys Arcand pictures are in the Observatoire’s top 30, Jean-Marc Vallé's trippy C.R.A.Z.Y. is number 8, Horloge Biologique takes 16, and Mambo Italiano ranks 18.
In Quebec, A Man and His Sin has the pop classic status of an Anne of Green Gables. Long before its latest incarnation, producer Rock Demers told me that before he saw his first movie, he and his rural family were addicted to a radio adaptation of the soap-operatic tale.
Séraphim is a money-hungry village mayor who torments his wife Donalda, a kind-hearted young woman in love with another man. Based on a 1933 novel by Claude-Henri Grignon, the radio series aired for 20 years. Other adaptations included a stage play, a television téléroman that ran 4 years, and a 1948 feature film. The story is so deeply entrenched in Quebec culture, the name Séraphim denotes a miserly son-of-a-bitch.
Some Canadian producers have a firm grasp of the business while others are idealists, both genuine and self-proclaimed. Throughout his long career, the aforementioned Rock Demers (pictured) has successfully blended his idealism (non-threatening children’s films that entertainingly promote life-affirming values) with his considerable business smarts. The producer created a brand with his series of Tales for All children’s pictures, sold them internationally, and worked the marketplace with ancillary products like novelizations and colouring books. Recently, the AV Preservation Trust honoured Demers by naming his first Tale for All a Canadian Masterwork. In 1984, Demers launched his series with La Guerre des Tuques, a.k.a The Dog Who Stopped the War, a Give Peace a Chance fable that continues to sell and screen around the world.
While Quebec audiences have tastes unique to la belle province, they also share their English-Canadian cousins' preferences. In November, the wildly popular Tout le monde en parle began losing eyeballs to Le Banquier, broadcast on the ratings champion network, TVA. Le Banquier may sound exotic, but it is none other than the Québécois version of the game show Deal or No Deal. Local personality Julie Snyder hosts the program in place of comedian Howie Mandel, gamemaster on both the original U.S. and Canadian incarnations of the series.
Like Le Banquier, Tout le monde en parle imports a TV format, in this case a French talk show known for its embrace of controversy. When Le Banquier and TLMEP face off against each other, the two programs attract about half of Quebec's population. Quebecers like Deal, but industry types are wondering how many of them will buy into one of the most watched shows in Canadian television history. Little Mosque on the Prairie will debut here in the spring during yet another resurgence of ethnic nationalism. A band called Mes Adieux (My Ancestors) wows their fans with their song Dégenérations. It's become de rigeur for politicians to be concerned about what constitutes the "reasonable accommodation" of immigrants. A travelling public forum on the subject has been soliciting spectacularly clueless opinions in isolated regions where most people wouldn’t know the difference between lamb couscous and gefilte fish.
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