Denys Arcand

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The Decline Of The American Empire Review


OK
It's amazing how films that once so perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the day can degrade so quickly into mere curiosity.

Witness Denys Arcand's celebrated The Decline of the American Empire, a lauded film (which made my own top 10 list for 1986) that consists of little more than a series of conversations between men and between women and between men and women -- all about sex. From infidelity to disease, Empire runs the gamut of sex talk. The implication, one wonders, is whether this is what the decline of the American empire is all about -- and why is it happening in a French-speaking province of Canada? Never mind the accents, it's juicy gossip that proves that all of us -- men and women -- are dirty pigs.

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Stardom Review


Grim
Nothing could better use a solid send-up than the beyond egomaniacal fashion model "industry," a self-obsessed, navel-gazing enterprise of nonsensical characters if ever there has been one. French Canadian director Denys Arcand (best known for Jesus of Montreal) has created some biting social commentaries in the past, but Stardom is far from a masterpiece.

Stardom tells the story of an unknown female hockey player named Tina (Jessica Paré) who finds celebrity in the modeling biz when a happenstance candid photo of her on the ice becomes all the rage. Soon enough she's an up-and-comer in Montreal, jetting off to Europe for photo shoots and parties, and indulging in the usual trappings of the supermodel race.

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The Barbarian Invasions Review


Excellent
Odd companionship makes for great human drama. Some of the finest films about relationships have, at their center, a strange pairing of souls (Kieslowski's Red and Harold and Maude immediately come to mind). French-Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand understands the curiosity from such chemistry; so, he gives us the unlikely connection between a dying intellectual and a waifish heroin addict for his thought-provoking The Barbarian Invasions. And that's just a peripheral story.

Arcand is too experienced to be satisfied with this singular friendship as a focal point. Instead, it's just one of the delicate links that the veteran writer/director examines in this tale that briskly comments on everything from healthcare to ethics to today's Christianity.

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Jesus Of Montreal Review


Grim
Father Leclerc (Gilles Pelletier), a forward-thinking priest at a diocese in Montreal, feels that his church's passion play has become tired. In the interest of reinvigorating it, he hires an impassioned, method-like actor named Daniel (Lothaire Bluteau) to shake things up a bit, and Daniel in turn assembles a cast of four others from among his friends and acquaintances. Together - the five quickly become thick as thieves, many of them sharing a cramped apartment - these new apostles re-imagine the Passion, drawing heavily on scientific and sociological, as well as ecclesiastical, sources, and the play becomes a citywide hit. But Father Leclerc now has reservations; haven't the young actors opened up the story of the Passion too radically? Under pressure from his superiors, he cancels the show. Meanwhile the cast members are changing, too; for instance, Mireille (Catherine Wilkening), who previously was doing commercials that emphasized her admittedly terrific ass, realizes that she was only being used, and through Daniel she has begun to realize her potential as a person. The actors all come to feel deeply committed to their creation, in some cases giving up their previous lives to spread the word. Daniel, who of course portrays Jesus, begins to feel that he is in fact undergoing persecution at the hands of the church. And why? His message, which he is anxious for everyone to hear, is after all a peaceful one...

Made in 1989 by French Canadian director Denys Arcand (The Barbarian Invasions), Jesus of Montreal was much honored at the time of its release, receiving the jurors' prize at Cannes and an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film. It's easy to see why. The premise - that a group of young, unconventional actors find themselves at odds with the established church when they investigate Christ's teachings - is a whopper, and Arcand pulls if off with some finesse; he never preaches and he refuses easy ironies. Jesus of Montreal delivers no facile moral lesson, but it never descends into simple church-bashing either. It is, rather, a little bit of both worlds; like The Barbarian Invasions, it's a social comedy, and it invites a little reflection, too.

Continue reading: Jesus Of Montreal Review

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