L’ Âge des ténèbres
Review by Wyndham Wise
Situated somewhere between his Oscar-winning The Barbarian Invasions and the limp celebrity-bashing Stardom, Denys Arcand’s Days of Darkness (L’Âge des ténèbres), displays his usual sharp satirical wit but fails to impress due to an uneven script and an ending that is embarrassingly weak.
Billed as the third in a trilogy of films about contemporary Quebec society, which includes The Decline of the American Empire (1986) and the aforementioned Barbarian Invasions (2003), L’ Âge des ténèbres (aka Days of Darkness) is undoubtedly the weakest of the three. Whereas the first two brilliantly dissected modern mores with terrific dialogue and engaging characters, Days of Darkness seems more like an afterthought, thrown together with bits and pieces of plot and some amusing scenes, but with no overall coherent plan.
Jean-Marc LeBlanc (played with deadpan assurance by comic actor and Quebec television personality Marc Labrèche) is a mid-level bureaucrat working for the provincial government whose teenage daughters ignore him and his workaholic realtor wife has long since stopped sleeping with him. He spends most of his time daydreaming, Walter Mitty style, about being sexually attractive to all kinds of successful women as he faces yet another dreary day fruitlessly trying to help others who are more hapless.
At work – improbably located in the Olympic Stadium long since abandoned by the Montreal Expos – he must contend with gun-toting anti-smoking police, inane language laws and politically correct seminars intent on teaching the ways of feng shui and how to laugh. Meanwhile, people are walking around with facemasks on due to some unidentified airborne plague, Montreal traffic is horrendous, crime is rampant, and the medical system is in a state of collapse. It`s as if Orwell’s Big Brother is running things, only he`s a Big Fat Bloated Politically Correct Idiot.
At first all of this is mildly amusing, and Arcand’s gabs at the sacred and profane of Quebec society are right on the money. But when Jean-Marc’s wife (Sylvie Léonard) takes off for an extended real estate seminar in Toronto, leaving him to care for his indifferent daughters, the film enters its second chapter and goes seriously off the rails.
Jean-Marc decides to live out his sexual fantasies and attends a speed-dating evening with some of his work colleagues. He is coupled with a Renaissance-obsessed nutcase (Macha Grenon) who encourages him to attend a Medieval Times fantasy world, where participants dress up as lords and ladies. He’s the page; she’s the lady. He must joust with the tournament bully to win her hand. He does so, but his reward is a passionless kiss and a furtive fondle, nothing more. The good lady won’t give out until they are properly wed. This sequence, while impressively staged, takes an inordinate amount of time to prove the simple point – that fantasies are best left as such and to realize them only ends in disappointment.
The third act has our hero abandoning Montreal for his late father’s lakeshore cabin to get some peace and return to the traditional rural values of community, bottling preserves and tending one’s own garden. It feels tacked on and artificial, as if Arcand lost his nerve and didn’t know how to end the film.
Days of Darkness is charming at times and provocative in its best moments, but it is annoyingly uneven and the targets of Arcand’s savage wit are obvious. It’s a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. It can be entertaining for a while, but soon it becomes boring and pointless.
Also see: The Cast & Crew of L’ Âge des ténèbres.
Wyndham Wise is the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Take One: Film and Television in Canada.