L'AGE DES TENEBRES
Canada, 2007, 102 minutes, Colour.
Marc Labreche, Diane Kruger, Emma de Caunes.
Directed by Denys Arcand.
Best known for Jesus of Montreal, Montreal based Denys Arcand has made what is now a trilogy over the last twenty years. This is the final film. In 1987, he made The Decline of the American Empire. Keeping that historical perspective from the Roman Empire, he gathered the cast together in 2003 to make a story of what had happened to them in the preceding decade and a half. He called his film, The Barbarian Invasions. It won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film.
After the barbarian invasions came the Dark Ages (which would be a better translation of the French title). This is a story of a very ordinary man, Jean-Marc?, ‘a man of no interest’ (which is the title of a make believe prize winning novel in the film), a middle aged man subject to all the present crises who symbolises the contemporary Dark Ages. He is played quite convincingly in look and manner by comedian Marc Lebreche.
There are two solutions to the Dark Ages. The first is to retreat into a fantasy world. Our hero regularly does this and these sequences have vitality and are also amusing. A glamorous star (Diane Kruger) continually appears to him to fulfil all his desires, including his sexual frustration. He also imagines himself as a celebrity, acclaimed by everyone. But, then it is back to earth, to his real estate agent wife always on her mobile, to his indifferent teenage daughters, to his humdrum job of mainly telling applicants for aid how their request will be denied, to the constant traffic jams…
To highlight the Dark Ages imagery and symbols, our hero meets a woman at a dating service who takes part in medieval pageants and jousts. The club members dress up, fight the battles and take rather fascist stances on nationalism.
The solution that Arcand espouses is another variation on flight from the world. This is the ‘fuga mundi’ that the monks of the times of the barbarian invasions and the dark ages advocated: to go to a centre where values, both human and religious, could be fostered and re-establish a values civilisation. (And, during the Dark Ages, it was from these centres that the missionaries went out.)
Arcand is suggesting a rediscovery of roots, of earth, of creation and creativity – it is a bit like the Gospel saying of being in the world but not of the world.
1.The impact of the film? Interest in Denys Arcand, his films, career? His interests, history – and history repeating itself?
2.His perspective on the 21st century and its prospects, the decline and fall of an empire, the Barbarian invasions, the dark ages? How pessimistic? How much hope? The suggestion of a solution in going back to one’s sources, flight from the world?
3.The Montreal settings, ordinary Montreal life, the crowded travvic in the streets, the homes, a heightened sense of a future world? The buildings, the government offices, the huge and vast halls? The TV studios? The musical score?
4.The humour pervading the film, Jean- Marc and his self-deprecation, the serious tones? The satiric attack on Canadian society, on the west? ‘A Man of No Interest’?
5.The opening, the song, Diane Kruger as the embodiment of beauty and celebrity? The fantasy in Jean- Marc’s imagination? Its tone, sumptuous and sensual? Yet his appearing transformed from the singer?
6.Jean-Marc and his age, experience of life, memory of his parents, his father? His relationship with his wife, the years of marriage, the children and their indifference, the ordinary details of life in the house, his attitude, in the car, travelling in the train, going to work, always being late? In the traffic, the people with road rage? His superior and her critique of him being late? The meetings, the various training sessions – and the satiric style of the presentation? The scepticism of Jean-Marc? His friends at the office, the woman, his black friend – and getting into trouble about political correctness with the authorities? The interrogation about negroes? His meeting with his clients, the range of clients, his having to refuse them their grants? The growing depression?
7.The clients, their range, their different stories, contemporary difficulties and hardships, the role of the law, regulations, refusals? Despair, coming back again – and his having to advise them that they had no hope?
8.His wife, the real estate agent, always on the phone, busy, the lack of sexual rapport, his daughters, teenage, listening to music, bored?
9.The insertion of the fantasies with Diane Kruger, in the shower (and the joke about the American censors)? Her presence as a person, glamour, as a star, celebrity? Listening to his woes? A projection of himself?
10.The fantasies of his success, winning the literary prize for a book called A Man of No Interest, his political victory, going on the television and the show not being continued? The repeated presence of the reporter, the sexual encounters?
11.The women at the office, the boss, his lesbian friend, the fantasies and their presence, their change?
12.His lack of self esteem, going home, going to the garage, the pornography, dreams of fulfilment?
13.His wife and her decision to leave, her attitude, her boss, going to Toronto, her career? His going to the dinner where she won the award? His being seen as her husband? The children’s attitudes? Her decision to return?
14.His decision to leave, going to the house at the seaside, his father’s house, the ordinary life, by himself, the sea and its tranquillity, the friendly neighbours, growing things in the garden? His wife and the children bringing his stuff? His decision to stay?
15.His changing, trying to leave the 21st century world behind? The kind of 21st century under critique, yet people having to live within it? Being in the world but not of it?
16.The resolution, his final fantasies, the women and their talk, his seeing them as projections of himself, the reality of their lives, the farewell? His being self-sufficient? Finding a solution – a solution that is possible in flight from the world of within the world?
17.Arcand’s interest in the background of the dark ages, the mediaeval style? The sequences of the dating room, Jean- Marc and his meeting the different women, the pathos of the women wanting dates? His meeting the woman who was Beatrice? Her participation in the mediaeval jousts? The picture of the jousts, the personnel? The fascist attitude of many of the people? The re-creation of the middle and dark ages? The crusades, anti-Islam, promotion of the west? St Bernard and his fiery speeches? Jean- Marc and his involvement in the jousts, his having to become the champion? The rivals? Presented to the authorities – and the possibility of marrying Beatrice? His refusal, his going home again? The use of this kind of imagery to highlight the parallels with the dark ages?