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Days of Darkness (The Age of Ignorance)

The message is diluted by the medium in Denys Arcand's "Days of Darkness (The Age of Ignorance)." Satirical swipe at the inanity, dehumanization and fascistic bureaucracy of modern-day life is intermittently entertaining but nowhere near as sharp or funny as it should be. Way better than Arcand's superficial parody of celeb culture, "Stardom" (2000), but lacking the spark and banter of his Oscar-winning "The Barbarian Invasions," ho-hum Cannes closer looks headed for modest B.O. sunlight somewhere in the penumbra of international distribution.

With:
With: Marc Labreche, Diane Kruger, Sylvie Leonard, Caroline Neron, Rufus Wainwright, Macha Grenon, Emma de Caunes, Didier Lucien, Rosalie Julien, Jean-Rene Ouellet, Andre Robitaille, Hugo Giroux, Christian Begin, Thierry Ardisson, Laurent Baffie, Bernard Pivot. (French dialogue)

The message is diluted by the medium in Denys Arcand’s “Days of Darkness (The Age of Ignorance).” Satirical swipe at the inanity, dehumanization and fascistic bureaucracy of modern-day life is intermittently entertaining but nowhere near as sharp or funny as it should be. Way better than Arcand’s superficial parody of celeb culture, “Stardom” (2000), but lacking the spark and banter of his Oscar-winning “The Barbarian Invasions,” ho-hum Cannes closer looks headed for modest B.O. sunlight somewhere in the penumbra of international distribution.

Part of the problem is the structure of the script, interweaving fantasy scenes into the tale of an anonymous civil servant frustrated in all aspects in his professional and private life. These dream sequences invariably involve beautiful women pandering to his ego and insecurities — an idea that’s initially diverting but soon becomes repetitive and tedious, sapping the central story of its juice.

Middle-aged Jean-Marc Leblanc (Marc Labreche) is a suburban nobody with a workaholic wife in uber-realtor Sylvie (Sylvie Leonard), and two teen daughters with no interest beyond their iPods. Some epidemic is sweeping Canada and the whole population is walking around in face masks.

With a sick mother in hospital, zero sex life at home, and a clock-punching job in the Citizens’ Rights Dept., Jean-Marc’s only pleasures consist of clandestine smoking breaks with two work colleagues and daydreams about being a successful artist/pol/womanizer with hot and cold running babes (Diane Kruger, Emma de Caunes) on tap.

Though it also applies to many other countries than just Canada, Arcand’s portrait of politically correct government life in Quebec is especially acrid, with Jean-Marc sidelined to a temporary office inside a sports stadium and unable to help any of his complainants due to the deadening tangle of state regulations. One day, he’s hauled up in front of a Kafkaesque committee for using an officially banned word; another day, he has to attend a motivational lecture by state org Humor-Quebec.

After an hour of shuttling between reality and dream sequences, the pic seems stuck in a rut — despite one potentially interesting development in which Jean-Marc’s fantasy women start moaning about how they’re always “in losers’ fantasies.”

Their rebellion could have fueled an anarchic second half. Instead, the script takes a left turn into a cul-de-sac with a long section in which Jean-Marc joins a speed-dating club and becomes entangled with a woman who imagines herself a medieval countess (Macha Grenon), complete with jousting knights. Division between dream and reality is particularly thin here.

Ending is a vague cop-out, tied to the Canadian dream of the simple, natural life, in harmony with nature.

Popular TV personality Labreche is well cast as the somewhat nebbish Jean-Marc, though more convincing in the real-life segs than fantasy ones. As usual, Kruger looks stunning but makes no impression beyond that, while other thesps fill their roles appropriately, but add little to the schematic script and dialogue. Widescreen tech package is just fine.

At the time of the screening caught, the final English title was not decided, with the clumsy “Days of Darkness (The Age of Ignorance)” the pic’s temporary moniker.

Days of Darkness (The Age of Ignorance)

Canada-France

Production: An Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm release (in Canada) of a Cinemaginaire, Prods. Tenebres (Canada)/StudioCanal, Mon Voisin Prods., Cine@ (France) production. (International sales: StudioCanal, Paris.) Produced by Denise Robert, Daniel Louis. Co-producers, Dominique Besnehard, Philippe Carcassonne, Michel Feller. Directed, written by Denys Arcand.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Guy Dufaux; editor, Isabelle Dedieu; music, Philippe Miller; opera arias arranger, Francois Dompierre; production designer, Francois Seguin; costume designer, Judy Jonker; sound (Dolby Digital), Paul Laine, Diane Boucher, Cyril Holtz, Philippe Amouroux; sound designer, Marie-Claude Gagne; assistant director, Marc Larose; casting, Lucie Robitaille. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (closer, non-competing), May 25, 2007. Running time: 109 MIN.

With: With: Marc Labreche, Diane Kruger, Sylvie Leonard, Caroline Neron, Rufus Wainwright, Macha Grenon, Emma de Caunes, Didier Lucien, Rosalie Julien, Jean-Rene Ouellet, Andre Robitaille, Hugo Giroux, Christian Begin, Thierry Ardisson, Laurent Baffie, Bernard Pivot. (French dialogue)

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