- Denys Arcand's Le Déclin de l'Empire américain and Les Invasions barbares
This study of the 'diptych' by celebrated Quebec film director Denys Arcand, by André Loiselle of Carleton University, is divided into two parts - one for each of the highly popular films of the title, produced, respectively, in 1986 and 2003. Most of the principal actors of the first reappear in the sequel, although noticeably aged and, by the nature of things, somewhat tamer in their sexual appetites. The first part is divided into four chapters, treating the first film's production and reception; the decline of patriarchy and the 'death of the feminine'; 'the death of Quebec history'; and a celebration of friendship. The second part has chapters entitled 'From an Obsession with Death to an Oscar'; 'Death of a Bon Vivant . . .'; and 'Sex, Death and the Cinema.' The conclusion is entitled 'Sex, Death and Boredom.'
Loiselle's book has a complete listing of Denys Arcand's films, from his student days at the Université de Montréal up to his latest work, L'Age des ténèbres (2007), but in reverse order. There is also a very useful bibliography and copious notes. André Loiselle displays an intimate knowledge of Arcand's films and of Québécois cinematography in general, and brings some worthwhile insights into the meaning and structure of his work.
On the other hand, in my view, he adopts too readily and uncritically Arcand's own ultra-pessimistic view of Quebec society and culture, and fails to note the filmmaker's evolution from radical critic of that society in works like On est au coton (1970), on the poor work conditions and tension-filled labour struggles in the textile industry, especially in the 1950s and 1960s; Québec, Duplessis et après (1972), and the 1978 Radio Canada television series, Duplessis - all of which treat those conflicts from a strong pro-labour angle, and in which the celebrated union militant Madeleine Parent appears in archival footage or in a dramatization - to Arcand's jaundiced view of unions and medicare in Les Invasions barbares. [End Page 475] (There, the filmmaker even has a cameo role as one of a group of corrupt labour leaders!) But to his credit, the author does highlight the profound social dimensions of Arcand's modern Crucifixion tale, Jésus de Montréal (1989). Still, he fails to note that the director therein sheds some of his earlier stereotypes of ethnic minorities in Quebec as depicted, for example, in Réjeanne Padovani (1973).
Also, Loiselle goes to extreme lengths to flay the alleged putrescence of Quebec society and culture, as in this judgment by Arcand, which he seems eagerly to embrace: '[His] reading of Québec as a decadent, hopeless society that is bound to vanish still informs his later films, including Le Déclin . . . and Les Invasions barbares.' This in a period when Québec cinema is gaining more and more praise internationally, and artists like Robert Lepage, and troupes like Cirque du soleil, thrill thousands around the globe! In Les Invasions, the characters' (and Arcand's?) recollection of having flirted at different times with various competing ideologies - existentialism, Quebec's independence movement, Marxism, Maoism, Trotskyism, structuralism, etc., in chronological order (see scenario) - display a certain fickleness and dilettantism.
Finally, I must point out that there is a plethora of errors of many kinds in Loiselle's book, thus making clear meaning problematic. The most annoying are due to confusion between the original French of the film titles and dialogues, and the references to them in English. Several (of many) examples follow: 'face aux defies [sic, for défis] du présent' (60); 'Oratoir [for Oratoire] St.-Joseph' (22); 'Québec counsel [sic, from conseil] of universities' (62); 'for sake [sic] of getting his "sacred" [for "damned"] New York Times' (75); 'the presence of snow at the end which might . . . Canadianise [sic, from canadianiser] us' (80), 'the Jury's [sic, for 'Jury'] prize...