Days of Darkness (**)
Denys Arcand’s Days of Darkness (L’Âge des ténèbres) is the end of a trilogy that began with The Decline of the American Empire and continued with The Barbarian Invasions. Like those films, it pitches itself as a scathing satire of contemporary Québécois society. Yet this recent outing is mostly about contemporary society in the entire developed world—perhaps about life as it has always been for critical, sensitive people—and is too crude and smug to be terribly scathing.
Jean-Marc Leblanc (Marc Lebrèche) is a civil servant trapped in a loveless marriage to a power realtor (Sylvie Léonard) who, along with their two daughters, is ceaselessly playing with and speaking to gadgets. Leblanc is invisible both domestically and professionally. When not retreating to his study to smoke and masturbate, he spends his time dismissing others’ appeals to the province for legal aid, health care and other forms of compensation (in a hilarious yet frighteningly speculative move, Arcand has situated the government of Quebec offices in Montreal’s broken-down Olympic Stadium). Leblanc’s cliché, Walter Mitty reveries—of fame and of sex with beautiful women—consume him, as well as more than half the film.
Subtlety has never been Arcand’s forte, and Days of Darkness’s premise tends to underline his limitations. Instead of the bristling conversations that populate his stronger films, we get an aloof character whose real and fantasy lives are equally trite. Arcand’s hypocrisy has never been so naked: he ostensibly attacks Québécois parochialism, yet puts local limits on Leblanc’s fantasies (most of which involve French-language media); he lambastes the public health care system while critiquing new government strictures on smoking. One sequence—in which Leblanc, as a result of speed dating, ends up in a medievalist village—works well for a while, as it gets to the root of a creepy postmodern pathology that is both Québécois and global in scope. Then Arcand zooms in on someone in peasant dress taking a picture with a cellphone, and it all crumbles. The lesson is already clear, and Arcand has to make it insipid.
Days of Darkness is now playing at the Cumberland (159 Cumberland St.).