Denys Arcand’s conclusion to the loose trilogy whose first two parts were The Decline of the American Empire and The Barbarian Invasions takes place in a near-future Quebec of soulless bureaucracy and nonexistent human relations. Our hero (Marck Labrèche) is a civil servant with a wife whose job leaves no time for him, two iPod-dependent teenage daughters, and a giant suburban house that is not a home. He retreats from his dead-end life into a series of fantasies which see him as hero, shiek, rock star, celebrated novelist, and so on, always with women rushing to have sex with him.
There is sour diversion here, but this is not deep satire. The jokes are hardly fresh (smokers hiding from guards and dogs). Then there’s the attitude towards women. While one might argue that the fantasy figures are precisely that, and meant to reflect the character’s problems, not the director’s, the fact that the women in the real world of the film are a clutch of castrating harpies makes one suspect that the filmmaker is rather too sympathetic to his protagonist’s worldview. Of course, there is an absolutely terrific film dealing with a weak civil servant escaping into fantasy while labouring in a future society of absurd, Kafkaesque totalitarian bureaucracy. But it’s called Brazil.
Have to admire the package, though. The sound is terrific, with fully enveloping music (and here’s the chance for Rufus Wainwright fans to hear him sing in French). The clarity of the dialogue is clear beyond reproach, and there is nice use of the 5.1 surround effects. The setting may be dreary, but the sound is not.
The lush opening fantasy sequence is in stark contrast to the drizzly gray that predominates in the real-world scenes, and the transfer handles the shifts in tone very well (arguably better than the director does himself, at the narrative level, at any rate). The colours, blacks, flesh tones and contrasts are sumptuous when called on to be, and the image is never less than razor sharp. Grain and edge enhancement are not issues here.
There are two discs, one with the Quebec edition of the film, the other with the international release, which runs five minutes less. Disc 1 also has a short feature (“L’Amendement”) by Kevin Papatie, deleted scenes, trailers for Quebec and France, and a rather amusing film festival Q&A with Arcand. Disc 2 has another live session with Arcand, this time on the subject of screenwriting.
This is the work of a skilled filmmaker, but who has here made a movie that is far less original, intelligent and insightful than he thinks it is.