Days dogged by hostile press

The first-weekend box office for Denys Arcand's latest was decent, but reviews have been merciless. One box-office watcher thinks Days of Darkness could click -- if only it can get a few kind words from Quebecers

MONTREAL — Despite Alliance Vivafilm’s $1-million marketing campaign, Denys Arcand’s L’âge des ténèbres (Days of Darkness) drew fair numbers over its first weekend on screens, arriving after a barrage of negative press in la belle province prior to its hometown debut on Friday.

Darkness pulled in $281,751 on 82 screens during its opening weekend, for a per-screen average of $3,436, according to Montreal-based film tracker Cineac. ‘I’m very satisfied. We are relieved after what’s been happening in the media in the past month,’ says Alliance Vivafilm president Patrick Roy.

Cineac’s Simon Beaudry concurs. ‘The numbers are decent. It’s not a film like Nitro. I think it’s a good start. Now it’s all about word of mouth.’

There’s certainly been lots of talk about Darkness — most of it negative.

Since its world premiere as the closing film at the Cannes Film Festival in May, Arcand’s satire about a frustrated government bureaucrat, starring Quebec megastar Marc Labrèche, has been the subject of much controversy in Arcand’s home province. The Quebec media began their onslaught against Arcand’s follow-up to Les invasions barbares in May after Alliance Vivafilm nixed the film’s local launch at the last minute and pushed its release back until December, saying the French-language film wasn’t ready for release.

Roy says Alliance Vivafilm didn’t release Darkness last May because the film’s producer, Denise Robert, said it wasn’t ready. ‘She said she couldn’t have the copy ready for the Montreal debut,’ says Roy. The film was ready for Cannes because its deadline was later than the date set for the Quebec release. Alliance Vivafilm didn’t release it over the summer because there was too much competition from other Quebec titles, says Roy.

The film opened in France in September and was panned by critics. French magazine Les Inrockuptibles called it ‘un film de vieux con’ (a film from an old fool), while Le Nouvel Observateur talked of ‘Le Déclin de l’empire Arcand.’ The negative reviews the film received in France were extensively reported by Quebec’s French-language press.

Roy calls the Quebec media’s coverage of Darkness prior to its Canadian debut ‘relentless.’ ‘Usually Canadian and Quebec journalists are respectful. But the stuff reported from the reviews in France was not. And they republished most of it here.’

In a recent article in L’Actualité, the 66-year-old filmmaker revealed that he’s feeling the pain. ‘Some have savagely attacked me,’ he said. ‘I just can’t imagine [fellow Quebec director] François Girard being treated the same way.’

Alliance Vivafilm had big expectations for the follow-up to Invasions, which generated more than $25 million at the worldwide box office. After its opening weekend in May 2003, Invasions grossed $649,675 on 136 screens for a per-screen average of $4,777. The film, which won the foreign-language Oscar, went on to gross over $5 million in Arcand’s home province.