by Ralph Lucas – Publisher
(November 7, 2023 – Toronto, ON) I have often used the phrase “of a certain age” when writing for Northernstars. I use it to forewarn the first wave of baby boomers about things they should look for in movies they might like, or sometimes what they should be wary of. The opening several minutes of Denys Arcand’s latest feature, Testament, might be something a little too honest, a little too dark and brooding, but it sets the foundation for the star of this film, Rémy Girard.
Arcand was 81 when he shot Testament in Montreal. He also wrote the screenplay so in a very real way he was putting his words in Girard’s mouth to the point he could be the famed director’s alter ego. I was convinced I was hearing Arcand’s voice as he typed those words into his screenplay. Viewers like me, of a certain age, will be reminded that time is fleeting and we are, like the Doomsday Clock, within the last few minutes of our long and happy lives. Girard, a fixture in Arcand films beginning with Le crime d’Ovide Plouffe in 1984, is brilliant in his role as the quiet, gentle, subdued and semi-retired Jean-Michel Bouchard.
Following his opening soliloquy, we see him attending an awards ceremony for Québec writers and we are immediately reminded this drama is also a social satire. Jean-Michel Bouchard is there to pick up an award for a book he didn’t write. The real author was Jean-Marc Bouchard and when Bouchard tries to bring the error to the attention of one of the cultural event’s organizers, he is treated like an inconvenience, firmly told it doesn’t matter and that he should leave, possibly because he is the only male recipient and a white man at that. It is the first of many times Arcand’s finger is tapped against the chest of Québec’s often over-zealous politicos or overbearing overseers.
His mistrust of “the powers that be” is legitimate. Part of his early career was spent at the National Film Board where at one point they refused to release his film, On est au coton, a gritty, angry exposé of Québec’s textile industry. The ban on that film lasted six years. Also, it should be remembered that the man who would go on to win an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film with Les invasions barbares in 2004, started out poor and possibly unsure of his future. He wrote his 1986 film, Le Déclin de l’empire américain (The Decline of the American Empire) in a room at a Salvation Army Hostel.
The longest series of sequences punching at and knocking down the stuffed shirts and blouses of the political class surrounds a sit-in by a bunch of English kids who, having appropriated Indigenous headbands and chanting “Respect First Nations,” demand the removal of a work of art in one of the large rooms in the magnificent building where Bouchard lives with other retirees. The mural spans a large wall and depicts the meeting of Jacques Cartier with some of the continent’s original inhabitants. How the sit-in is handled and how the buck is passed back and forth between the manager of the retirement facility and the elected and appointed officials is instructive, illustrative and telling. There is no doubt where Arcand’s sympathies lie and it is satire using a pointed stick instead of a blunt instrument.
Towards the end of the film, one of many outright funny scenes takes place during another protest. One of the people in the crowd is none other than the actor Pierre Curzi who was elected to Québec’s National Assembly and served as the Parti Québecois critic in culture, communications and language but quit to sit as an independent in 2011. Yes it’s an in-joke that I’m sure played better in Québec, but it is a small reminder that Arcand’s genius is in every frame of this movie.
There are some very touching moments and in the end Girard’s character embraces his time on this spinning ball of madness and we are happy to have made the transition with him. As it fades to black and as I expected the credits roll to begin, there’s yet one more scene where Arcand pulls out all the stops against a fervent and feverish Québec regime. It’s a flash forward in time and I won’t ruin it by revealing the end.
Testament is Arcand using his power and position to let it be known he remains a sly master of his craft and his job, through many of his films, has been to hold a mirror up to society in general and our temporary leaders in particular. Bravo. Well done. Really worth seeing.
Testament, from TVA Films, opened in Québec in early October. It opens in English Canada this Friday, November 10. Click here to watch the trailer and learn more about the cast and crew of Testament.
Images courtesy of TVA Films.
Ralph Lucas is a former broadcast executive and award-winning director in high-end corporate video production. The founder and publisher of Northernstars.ca, online since 1998, he began writing about film and reviewing movies while in radio in Montreal in the mid-1970s.