TIFF Review: 'An Eye for Beauty'

An Eye for Beauty (Le règne de la beauté)
(Canada, 102 min.)
Written and directed by Denys Arcand
Starring: Éric Bruneau, Mélanie Thierry, Melanie Merkosky, Marie-Josée Croze,
Programme: Special Presentations (Toronto Premiere)             
Photo courtesy of TIFF.
Denys Arcand disappoints with his latest offering An Eye for Beauty (Le règne de la beauté). Arcand’s signature flair for capturing cultural mores and attitudes in clever language just doesn’t work this time around. For a filmmaker who seemed so perfectly on the pulse of culture in 2003’s The Barbarian Invasions (arguably the best Québécois film ever made), this latest entry feels out of touch and empty. There’s no beauty and poetry here. Only witty repartee.

An Eye for Beauty offers a mostly straightforward infidelity drama as Arcand presents a one-night stand that turns into a two-night affair when an architect named Luc (Éric Bruneau) leaves his cozy home in Baie St Paul, Quebec, to work on a project in metropolitan Toronto. He meets Lindsay (Melanie Merkosky), who invites him to sleep with her in her cottage on Toronto's Centre Island. The two actors have zero chemistry, so one wouldn't buy the romance at all if not for the opening frame that reunites the louvers before An Eye for Beauty flashes back to their affair.

The second act of sexy time comes, you guessed it, when Lindsay visits Quebec and Luc whisks off to shag her. He leaves behind his wife, Stéphanie (Melanie Thierry), who is slowing going mad following her own adventurers flirting with lesbianism as she becomes a third wheel in the marriage of their two friends (Marie-Josée Croze, Geneviève Boivin-Roussy). There isn't enough meat to the film to believe that An Eye for Beauty devises a grand seduction of the Francophone by the Anglophone other, although the bilingual dialogue offers a well-meaning intent to appeal to diverse Canadian audiences

Arcand uses a trope of pathetic fallacy to symbolize the growing coldness of both relationships as Luc's marriage to Stéphanie becomes as barren as a Canadian winter while the warmth of his affair with Lindsay loses its spark. It's a nice visual effect from Arcand, but visuals and aesthetic have never driven his films as strongly as dialogue and characterizations do, so the meandering An Eye for Beauty unfortunately doesn't have a titular sight to which it claims. (Although the views of the landscape, especially the Saint Lawrence River, are naturally beautiful.)

Any redeeming qualities, however, completely perish with the film's disastrously nonsensisical ending. An Eye for Beauty ends with an incomprehensible development that is utterly unfathomable from such a decorated screenwriter. (The audience at the film's premiere at the VISA Screening Room actually required a full explanation from Arcand to make sense of the ending.) This shoddy endnote reinforces the sense that the affair is essentially pointless. An Eye for Beauty is a minor work from one of Canada’s masters.

Rating: ★★½ (out of ★★★★★)