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Denys Arcand

Denys ArcandJune 25, 1941, Deschambault, Quebec

Denys Arcand is one of the preeminent talents to have emerged in Quebec in the 1960s, and is now one of Canada’s star directors. Before the huge success of his breakthrough film, Le déclin de l’empire américain (1986), Arcand had been labelled an unbankable troublemaker, the kind of filmmaker who made politically explosive documentaries such as On est au coton (1976).

Arcand’s films portray a world so irredeemably corrupt that he has been accused of being a cynic and a nihilist. Yet, his films consistently explore and demystify our social and political processes; and moreover, they convey inherent values with wit and insight. He once told Cinema Canada “I can’t bear people who don’t want to see what appears to me to be reality. I don’t know why. I’ve always been that way... it seems to me that the first attribute of humanity is intelligence.”

His early fea­tures, especially La maudite galette (1971) and Réjeanne Padovani (1972), offered radically new formal extensions in fiction film­making, and his documentaries On est au coton, Quebec: Du­plessis et après... (1972) and Le confort et l'indifférence (1981) marked major develop­ments in direct cinema and film rhet­oric.

Arcand grew up in a riverside village and eventually moved to Montreal where he attended a Jesuit school and later studied history at the Uni­versité de Montréal. He worked on Parti pris and made his first film Seul ou avec d'autres (1962) in collaboration with Denis Héroux, Stéphane Venne, Michel Brault and students at the university. He joined the NFB in 1963 and made several documentaries about Quebec historical figures before directing the feature length On est au coton, a film about Quebec textile workers that provoked an internal crisis at the NFB. The Board saw it as a biased portrayal of the reality it represented and they refused to release it. Although copies of the film were circulated clandestinely, the ban lasted six years.

When Arcand turned to fiction, his work began to modulate outrage with the amused disdain of a sophisticated observer and satirist. In Réjeanne Padovani, a sleazy construction mogul has his unfaithful wife murdered during a party and entombs her under the asphalt of a newly completed highway. Arcand expresses shock at the depravity of his characters, but he is quite aware of the comedy they provide.

By the time he directed Le déclin de l’empire américain — which received the International Film Critics’ Award at Cannes, nine Genies and an Academy Award® nomination, and remains one of the most profitable Canadian movies ever made — Arcand admitted that he felt affection as well as amusement for his self-deceptive, philandering characters. In fact, his biting humour can turn quickly into passionate intensity.

Jésus de Montréal, released in 1989, is perhaps Arcand’s richest, most rewarding creation. In the film, he orchestrates perfectly timed mood swings between reverence and irreverence, detached irony and dark tragedy. In Le déclin de l’empire américain and Jésus de Montréal, Arcand mastered the unobtrusive visual style and rapid pacing that he admires in classic American moviemaking. No matter how bizarre the content, his approach to filmmaking is straightforward, understated and laconic. In this, Arcand resembles the Spanish master, Luis Buñuel, another cool, witty minim­alist and satirist.

In 1993, Arcand directed his first English-language feature Love and Human Remains. The theme echoes that of Le déclin de l’empire américain, but the film did not receive the critical acclaim of that film or of Jésus de Montréal. In 1999, Arcand made 15 moments, a reflection on the media and the star/celebrity machine that follows the rise and fall of fashion supermodel Tina Menzhal. Stardom, released in 2000, is the complete version of 15 moments. In 1999, George Dufaux made a documentary about Arcand called De l’art et la manière chez Denys Arcand, a behind-the-scenes look at Arcand's moviemaking.

Film and video work includes

À l’est d’Eaton, 1959 (co-director with Stéphane Venne)
Seul ou avec d'autres, 1962 (co-director with Denis Héroux, Stéphane Venne; co-writer with Stéphane Venne)
Jusqu'au cou, 1963 (co-writer with Denis Héroux)
Champlain, 1964 (director; writer)
La route de l'ouest, 1964 (director; writer)
Montréal un jour d’été, 1965 (director; editor)
Les Montréalistes, 1965 (director; writer)
Mon oeil, 1966 (actor)
Volleyball, 1966 (director; editor)
C’est pas la faute à Jacques Cartier, 1967 (actor)
Entre la mer et l'eau douce, 1967 (co-writer with Michel Brault)
Nominingue... depuis qu’il existe, 1967 (actor)
Parcs atlantiques/Atlantic Parks, 1967 (director; editor)
La maudite galette, 1971 (director; co-writer with Jacques W. Benoît; actor)
Québec: Duplessis et après . . ., 1972 (director; editor)
On n’engraisse pas les cochons à l’eau claire, 1973 (actor)
Réjeanne Padovani, 1973 (director; co-writer with Jacques W. Benoît; co-editor with Marguerite Duparc) Gina, 1975 (director; writer; editor)
La tête Normande St-Onge, 1975 (actor)
On est au coton, 1976 (director; editor)
La lutte des travailleurs d'hôpitaux, 1976 (director)
Duplessis, 1977 (writer)
Même mort il faut s’organiser, 1977 (co-director with Jean-Pierre Saint-Louis)
Le confort et l'indifférence, 1981 (director; writer)
Empire Inc. series, 1982 (director; TV, 3 episodes)
Le crime d'Ovide Plouffe, 1984 (director; co-writer with Roger Lemelin)
Le déclin de l’empire américain, 1986 (director; writer)
Un zoo la nuit, 1987 (actor)
Jésus de Montréal, 1989 (director; writer)
Les lettres de la religieuse portugaise, 1991 (director; writer; TV)
Montréal vu par ..., 1991 (co-director with Michel Brault, Atom Egoyan, Jacques Leduc, Léa Pool, Patricia Rozema)
Léolo, 1992 (actor)
Les malheureux magnifiques, 1992 (actor)
Love & Human Remains, 1993 (director)
Joyeux calvaire, 1996 (director; writer; TV)
The Hunger, 1997 (actor)
15 moments, 1999 (director; co-writer with Jacob Potashnik)
Stardom, 2000 (director; co-writer with Jacob Potashnik)
Les invasions barbares, 2003 (director)

Note: Updated to January 2003.

Source: The Film Companion; Take One's Essential Guide to Canadian Film
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