Days of Darkness, Denys Arcand's follow-up to the Oscar-nominated The Barbarian Invasions, isn't as smooth as that film -- but it's as bizarre and inventive a movie as you could ask for. Playing out of competition at Cannes, Days of Darkness is a perverse and busy mix of American Beauty, Brazil, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and many other influence that manages to include blunt drama, razor-sharp social commentary, broad comedy, sexual frankness and sweeping musical numbers. It's like that slightly lumpy knit sweater at the craft fair: it may not be machine-manufactured perfect, but you can tell just by looking at it that it was made by a human being.
Played by popular Quebecois comedian Marc Labrèche, Jean-Marc LeBlanc (I don't think the surname's a coincidence) is a 44-year-old bureaucrat, living a soulless life in a post-modern version of Quebec, struggling with a dead marriage, distracted kids, a mind-numbing job and all the discontents of life. The radio blares news of war and pestilence; when the kids are dropped off at school, they take off their Ipods, get out of the car and put on facemasks. Jean-Marc then goes off to work at a gigantic, inhuman, crumbling structure (it's actually Montreal's infamous Olympic stadium, a nice in-joke for Canadians) to aid -- or, rather, not aid -- Quebecois citizens in negotiating a labyrinthine bureaucracy that hinders more than it helps. Jean-Marc's wife (Sylvie Léonard) is obsessed with her work ("I'm the third-best suburban realtor in Canada!"); his mother dying slowly, falling into Alzheimer's.