‘An Eye for Beauty’ (‘Le Regne de la Beaute): Toronto Review

Toronto International Film Festival
A thing of beauty, but not a joy forever

Writer-director Denys Arcand ('The Barbarian Invasions') unveils his latest in Toronto

Quebecois auteur Denys Arcand shows that he still has An Eye for Beauty in his latest dramatic feature, but he doesn’t have much of a knack for storytelling in this extremely benign tale of a dashing young architect whose extramarital affair causes quiet havoc in his household. Set in the eye-popping hills overlooking Quebec City, and starring an eye-popping cast that includes Eric Bruneau, Melanie Thierry and Melanie Merkosky, the film feels at once incredulous and strangely inept, with the director resorting to facile plot twists or heavy-handed pathos whereas a little subtlety and sense would have went a long way. Arcand hasn’t had much success abroad since his 2003 Oscar winner The Barbarian Invasions, and this one is unlikely to travel far.

Luc Sauvageau (Bruneau) is a handsome and successful draftsman who’s not only married to the lovely, athletic Stephanie (Thierry), with whom he lives in a stunning modernist home atop the St. Lawrence River, but he also excels in any number of outdoorsy activities – tennis, skiing, hunting, golf, marijuana cultivation, you name it.

So it’s unclear why, after first meeting her at a jury deliberation in Toronto, he decides to sleep with Lindsay (Merkosky), an unhappily wed woman who’s looking for some fun on the side. Maybe it’s because she walks right up to him with what can best be described as a “f--- face” and says: “You seem like such a happy man. It’s quite striking.” Or maybe it’s because despite his killer bod and what seems to be a perfectly balanced life, there’s something darker that’s stirring Luc from the inside.

Either way, Arcand doesn’t seem to have any good answers for us, or otherwise could care less about creating characters with some sort of readable psychology. Instead, he provides us with plenty of kitschy, and frankly, badly acted love scenes, such as Luc and Lindsay getting it on in the moonlight while the city skyline looms perfectly in the background. Or else, he features the master builder at home in his natural environment, with scenes that are a cross between an Architectural Digest spread and an infomercial for the Canadian Ministry of Sports, some of them shot in slow-motion.

The film’s slightly better second half tries to dig deeper into things, focusing more on former tennis champ Stephanie and her bouts with depression. (Another subplot, involving a friendly old contractor (Michel Forget) dying of cancer, seems to be there purely to make Luc look good.) But even these latter sequences feel overwrought and not entirely credible, with Steph's nervous breakdown taking place as she watches a news report on the Libyan Civil War and wonders aloud, “Are we real?”

“Are you for real?” may be a question for Arcand himself, and not unlike some of the recent works of Woody Allen, though with zero sense of humor, the writer-director – who’s been making films since the early 1960’s – seems to be going through the motions without trying to make much sense.

Why, for instance, when the couple meets up for another tryst in Quebec City, does Luc warn his mistress to be discreet, only to kiss her in the street two seconds later? And why does Stephanie, who secretly has the hots for a friend (Genevieve Boivin-Roussy), make out with her in plain sight on the golf course as Luc walks by? And what about Luc getting a hard-on during a medical exam with his galfriend (Arcand regular Marie-Josee Croze)? To quote Jerry Seinfeld, “Who are these people?”

At best, the film remains true to its title by offering up a sizeable amount of eye candy, with cinematographer Nathalie Moliavko-Visotzky (Martyrs) capturing the gorgeous cast and dreamy locations in classically composed widescreen. Production designer Patrice Bengle also makes fine use of all the jaw-dropping homes that Luc either designs, lives in or gets laid in. Lucky guy.

Production company: Cinemaginaire
Cast: Eric Bruneau, Melanie Thierry, Melanie Merkosky, Marie-Josee Croze, Mathieu Quesnel
Director, screenwriter: Denys Arcand
Producers: Denise Robert
Director of photography: Nathalie Moliavko-Visotzky
Production designer: Patrice Bengle
Costume designer: Marie-Chantale Vaillaincourt
Editor: Isabelle Dedieu
Composer: Pierre-Philippe Cote
Sales: Seville International

No rating, 102 minutes