Instead of strictly focusing on the negative aspects of “cancel culture” or “self-assured woke-ness”, with his latest film Testament, Quebecois filmmaker Denys Arcand (The Barbarian Invasions) is curious to find if a heartwarming lede is ever being buried by self-righteousness and political correctness. And by doing so, the filmmaker has created a monster.
In this leisurely paced flick, writer/director Arcand seemingly places primary focus on a controversial painting in Quebec’s fictional Parizeau-Duplessis seniors’ home. While protests echo outside demanding the painting to be destroyed as retirees try and wrap their heads around other changes happening in their residence, romantic chemistry becomes more frequent between retired archivist Jean-Michel (Rémy Girard) and the retirement home’s stressed director Suzanne (Sophie Lorain, giving the best performance in the movie). Even though Jean-Michel finds enough satisfaction in buying sympathy from an attentive sex worker, Flavie (Marie-Mai), who will happily listen to him decompress, he finds Suzanne to be a natural friend. Suzanne, meanwhile, finds herself enamoured by the academic bachelor (and a little jealous of the hired help); an attraction that brings respite as she figures out a way to resolve the brewing cultural debate that’s complicating her job.
While I want to believe that Arcand’s droll optimism came from a good place, this approach ends up backfiring. Because the much-discussed painting portrays Europeans colonizing First Nations territory, Arcand is already treading a touchy topic to satirize opinions of. Proceeding to double down on a tasteless decision, everyone who has an opinion towards the painting is portrayed as a buffoon, suggesting to the audience that it’s silly to feel emotional towards such material. Arcand tries to draw attention to hypocritical holes in each argument, but he isn’t developing these criticisms in any other way than to callously make fun of concerned people. Arcand has a laugh until he paints the film into a corner, and then he moves on; making the audience feel like this material is unfinished.
Outside of the debating is a side arc about a woman who loses her fit husband to a stroke, leading to a long and unfunny rant about pointless self-health routines. Then, there’s another tangent about how the retirement home’s library is being turned into a room for video games because the department of health states there’s more neurological engagement in gaming. Cue tacky sight gags featuring the elderly mashing video game controllers trying to get their avatar to walk and jump.
The cute elderly relationship between Jean-Michel and Suzanne is supposed to anchor Testament in the middle of this messy confusion. But by placing so much focus on two characters who “just can’t even”, it only drives home the cynical snootiness plaguing this prickly film.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie