Dialogue: Denys Arcand

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A Cannes veteran who has captured the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie in his fest favorites such as "The Decline of the American Empire" and "The Barbarian Invasions," Denys Arcand is presenting his third film in what he considers a trilogy as this year's closing-night film. This time, though, as he focuses on a weary civil servant who retreats into fantasy, Arcand is courting out-and-out laughs rather than just rueful smiles of recognition. Before making the trip to Cannes, Arcand spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about modern life, renaissance fairs and trusting his own sense of humor.

The Hollywood Reporter: How long have you had the idea for "Days of Darkness"?

Denys Arcand: It sort of percolated for about a year. During my last film, "Barbarian," I spent an inordinate amount of time in airplanes and limousines promoting the film, and I was hating it. I started to think, "Is there someone who would like to be in my shoes right now? Is there someone who would like to be interviewed this morning, going to this stupid TV show?" And I started imagining this character, who is someone that no one listens to, not his wife, not his daughters. He is a civil servant, an obscure bureaucrat, and he'd love to be interviewed, love to be alongside movie stars. So slowly this image came of this guy. Once all of that was over, I sat down and wrote the story.

THR: And you consider this film the final piece in a trilogy that includes "Decline" and "Barbarian Invasions?"

Arcand: Yes, something like that -- sort of a reflection on morals and life in our times. It's my last attempt at such a description. You see a brief appearance of one the characters in "Decline" and in "Barbarian Invasions." There is only one character who is carried over into this film this time.

THR: It's also described as much more farcical.

Arcand: It is, but at the same time, it's darker. I would say it's a more extreme film. It's funnier and darker than the two previous ones.

THR: Working in comedy, did you make any adjustments on the set?

Arcand: I didn't make any adjustments. It just came to me that way. How and when, I don't know. I got carried away. At some point, this guy gets involved with a woman who takes part in these renaissance fairs. You've seen them in the U.S. They are fairly popular. He gets caught in this, and getting caught in it, it becomes extremely farcical. There are pratfalls and stuff like that -- slapstick-type stuff, which is something I always loved in other films but was never able to do myself. So I tried it and I hope it works.

THR: What was it about renaissance fairs that interests you?

Arcand: The film presents life in our modern city in this day and age as more and more difficult to live. People have problems that are almost insurmountable -- pollution, problems with modern democracy, problems with marriage. My hero is almost submerged by all of this. Some people take refuge, they need to escape somehow. This is a very cinematographic form of escape. You escape to the Middle Ages, not knowing what the Middle Ages were in reality, because I don't think anyone would really want to be in the Middle Ages unless they were the king. Otherwise, it was very rough, very difficult. But so many people are looking for escape that they will try to live a sort of imaginary Middle Age, which is half real Middle Age, half Tolkien, half fantasy.

THR: The film sounds a bit like "The Secret Life of Water Mitty." Did you film actual fantasy sequences?

Arcand: Yes, there are a couple of scenes that are close to that.

THR: Because this is a comedy, did you test it before an audience?

Arcand: No, I didn't. I barely finished this film. We were terribly rushed to get something out for Cannes. I didn't have the time to test it. Also, to me testing is something that you do if you start from a really commercial point of view in a sense that you want to do something to bring in lot of customers and you want to please your customers. I've always done my films starting from a different point of view. I did some tests once for only one film, "Stardom," which was probably the least successful of all my films. I did modify the film myself, the editing, according to a screen test I did in New York City, and I hated myself for it and I still hate it to this day. I liked it, and to hell with the audience. I'm making a statement, trying to be as true as possible to my vision of the world, and I'm not going to be influenced by one audience on one night. Not only that, but audiences change over the years. Some of my earlier films that were not totally understood 10-15 years ago are now understood and appreciated, so how can you account for that? My films cost next to nothing, so as long as the film makes decent money, it pays for itself. I'm not in this to make money, otherwise I'd have another job, especially being a French Canadian.

THR: The movie stars Canadian Marc Lebreche and German star Diane Kruger. How did you go about putting together the cast?

Arcand: We needed a movie star, because the hero imagines himself having an affair with a movie star. Usually my films are devoid of movie stars, so we hired Diane because my producers in Paris knew her and liked her and she agreed to do it. The others are basically unknowns, but fairly good actors, theater actors that I picked in Montreal.

THR: You also included pop star Rufus Wainwright.

Arcand: My hero dreams also of being a singer, and when he dreams and sings, he becomes Rufus Wainwright. Rufus opens and closes the film. He basically sings two obscure 18th century opera arias. I always loved his voice. I didn't know him really, but I knew his mother so I had a connection with him and offered him the part and he accepted. He's such a great singer that it really adds something to the film.

THR: You've made many visits to Cannes. Can you encapsulate the experience?

Arcand: Well, it changes through the years. The first few times, I was very young and it was really a party. I spent two weeks in Cannes, having fun, like a gigantic spring break. Then it became more of business, because as the films get bigger and you get a bigger audience, you do promotion and it's not as much fun personally. But frankly, Cannes has always been very, very good to my films. I don't have any horror stories of being whistled down. People have been nice and I've been well received over the years.

THR: Do you expect the experience of bringing the closing night film will be different?

Arcand: I guess they felt a comedy was the right kind of article to program on the last night. There is not the stress of winning or losing. No one is judging you. It's a comfortable spot.


VITAL STATS:

Nationality: Canadian; born: June 25, 1941

Selected filmography: "Seul ou avec d'autres" (1962); "Dirty Money" (1972); "Gina" (1975); "The Decline of the American Empire" (1986); "Jesus of Montreal" (1989); "Love and Human Remains" (1993); "Stardom" (2000); "The Barbarian Invasions" (2003).

Notable awards: Writers Guild of Canada Award, "Stardom"; FIPRESCI Prize, Festival de Cannes, "The Decline of the American Empire"; Jury prize, "Jesus of Montreal," Festival de Cannes; Best screenplay, Festival de Cannes, "The Barbarian Invasions"; Academy Award for best original screenplay, "The Barbarian Invasions"; Best film, best director, best screenplay, Cesar Awards, "The Barbarian Invasions"; Commander of L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France (2004)
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