Movies

Days of Darkness & Snow Angels

Days of Darkness & Snow Angels featured image

by Marc Glassman.

Days of Darkness (L’Âge des ténèbres) Denys Arcand, director and
script. Starring: Marc Labreche (Jean-Marc Leblanc), Diane Kruger
(Veronica Star), Sylvie Leonard (Sylvie Cormier-Leblanc), Caroline
Neron (Caroline Bigras-Bourque), Macha Grenon (Beatrice), Emma de
Caunes (Karine Tendance), Didier Lucien (William Cherubin)

Snow Angels David Gordon Green, director and script based on the novel
by Stewart O’Nan. Starring: Kate Beckinsale (Annie Marchand), Sam
Rockwell (Glenn Marchand), Grace Hudson (Tara Marchand), Michael
Angarano (Arthur Parkinson), Jeannetta Arnette (Louise Parkinson),
Griffin Dunne (Don Parkinson), Olivia Thirlby (Lila), Amy Sedaris
(Barb), Nicky Katt (Nate).

Days of Darkness (L’Âge des ténèbres)

The anguish of the bourgeoisie has replaced that of the intelligentsia
in Days of Darkness, the concluding feature in Denys Arcand’s acclaimed
trilogy, which began two decades ago with Decline of the American
Empire and continued four years back with the Oscar winning Barbarian
Invasions. In place of the witty, sophisticated group of Quebecois
professionals from the earlier works, Arcand focuses on a sad
bureaucrat who can only aspire to the chic despair that clung to the
director’s earlier protagonists. By setting his sights on a different
target, though, Arcand has found new ways to satirize the Quebec
society that he has been criticizing throughout his long and
distinguished career.

Jean-Marc Leblanc is an everyman, literally “the white” or “blank”
sheet from which one can read the hopes and disappointments of a vast
number of counterparts in Western society. Saddled with a dead-end job
at a Citizens’ Rights Department, Leblanc is forced is hear a litany of
complaints by day; then, at night, he goes home to his wife, Sylvie, a
24/7 realtor on a hyperbolic upwardly mobile path and two daughters who
casually despise him. It’s no wonder that he spends most of his time
fantasizing making love to a bevy of beautiful, compliant women.

Clearly enjoying the set-up, Arcand expends more than half the film
moving between Leblanc’s bleak reality and his florid but all too
typical dreams. Arcand hits obvious targets: political correctness;
laws against cigarette smoking; feminism and the Olympic Stadium, which
cost Quebec millions of dollars and is the “temporary” location of
Leblanc’s human rights agency. Eventually, Leblanc’s women revolt—his
wife leaves him in the clutches of his angry daughters and even his
female fantasy objects start demanding equal rights in his dreams.

The idea of Leblanc’s “playgirls” fighting him is a fresh idea;
unfortunately, Arcand shifts gears at this point and gives the sad-sack
bureaucrat a new—and real—girlfriend, who is enmeshed in playing
medieval “warrior” games on the weekends. A long subplot involving a
jousting tournament falls flat and the film is only salvaged in a
concluding section when Arcand, finally taking his character seriously,
places Leblanc in the countryside where he gets to confront his
demons—and fantasies.

Days of Darkness is clearly not as successful as the first two films in
his trilogy. Nonetheless, this is the work of a gifted filmmaker and
writer who works exceptionally well with actors and has a genuine gift
for dialogue. I’d rather watch an Arcand “failure” than the minor
triumphs of many other directors. Even if you don’t see this film in a
theatre, Days of Darkness is surely worthy of a DVD rental in six
months.

Snow Angels

A melodrama set in small town America, Snow Angels zeroes in on three
families in crisis. Annie and Glenn Marchand’s marriage is in ruins but
their mutual love for their young daughter Tara keeps them in each
other’s lives. Don and Louise Parkinson, a professor and his
middle-class working wife, are in the midst of a trial separation that
is hurting their teenaged son Arthur very much. Barb and Nate Petite
have a tempestuous relationship, exacerbated by Nate’s philandering
ways.

This being a melodrama, it should come as no surprise that Nate is
having an affair with Annie, who is a very good friend of Barb’s.
Equally unremarkable is that Annie was Arthur’s babysitter when he was
a kid. And it hardly strains credulity that Annie, Barb and Arthur work
at the same Chinese restaurant. After all, Snow Angels is set in a
small town—apparently, a very small town.

Gradually, Snow Angels moves into two major stories and two minor ones.
While Annie resists Glenn’s insistent attempts to get back together
with her, Arthur falls in love with Lila, a fellow high school nerd.
Meanwhile Barb and Nate continue to squabble over Annie and the
Parkinsons stay apart—and miserable.

As a melodrama, Snow Angels could use more fully developed characters.
Annie, well played—surprisingly—by Kate Beckinsale, acquires a
three-dimensional appeal; you can imagine her constricted life and
aspirations for a more exciting future. And, as Glenn, Sam Rockwell is
almost appallingly interesting; he’s a train wreck of a character,
desperate to get back together with Annie and Tara. The rest of the
cast, including the young leads Michael Angarano and Olivia Thirlby as
Arthur and Lila, simply don’t command screen time. They’re good
characters actors but not strong film presences.

Worse, Snow Angels looks as if it’s supposed to be about more than its
characters. The small town, the conflicts between the generations,
between the professionals and the workers, all seem to be set up to
provide a portrait of modern-day USA. But there’s no pay-off, no sense
of what the director or author wants an audience to think about life in
America in the 21st century.

In the last third of the movie, Snow Angels lurches from melodrama to
tragedy. Regrettably, the material in the film—the narrative and the
characters—simply can’t sustain that change. Despite the best efforts
of Beckinsale and Rockwell, this is a film with good intentions that
doesn’t achieve its quite worthy goal of presenting us with a modern
American Tragedy.

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