Both a moving portrait of a septuagenarian losing his bearings and an unrefined social satire, Testament, Denys Arcand’s latest offering, spares no one. Especially not the wokes or the politicians.
Single without children, archivist at BAnQ, author of a few minor books, Jean-Michel Bouchard (Rémy Girard), 70, no longer understands the society in which he lives. And yet it’s not for lack of trying. So when the seniors’ residence where he lives is stormed by non-native wokes, outraged by a 19th-century mural that allegedly offensively depicts natives welcoming Jacques Cartier and his crew, Jean-Michel will simply ask for the opinion of a representative of the Mohawk nation in the hope of establishing a dialogue between the two parties.
It is in the company of this benevolent man with old-fashioned charm, almost too smooth, that Denys Arcand takes us into Testament, a satire without pity or finesse with a lethargic pace, which too often takes on the appearance of a vulgar sketch film when it don’t sink into a big flat farce.
From the outset, the director of the brilliant Decline of the American Empire sets the tone with an embarrassing and crude scene, that of the literary awards ceremony attended by Jean-Michel, whom the organizers confuse with the playwright Michel Marc Bouchard. . Here, a Minister of Culture (René Richard Cyr) who stumbles over the word “author”; there, a battalion of intersectional feminists passing over the body of the cisgender straight white man whose whistle was cut off.
A little more and Ti-Mé and his garbage landed in the luxury dying room managed by the psychorigid Suzanne (Sophie Lorain, decked out with a hairstyle worthy of the new version of La petite vie).
Composed of uneven scenes that drag on for no reason, full of redundant gags that fall flat, Testament takes the form of a laborious situation comedy where Denys Arcand shamelessly wastes the talent of the actors. If we are delighted to find the time of a scene with Pierre Curzi, Johanne-Marie Tremblay and Marcel Sabourin, we wonder what these three graces embodied by Sophie Faucher, Marie Michaud and Louise Turcot are doing. And what about Guylaine Tremblay, reduced to playing the grieving widow who eats her emotions?
In addition to brief reunions with his favorite actors, Denys Arcand also allows himself a few references to his previous works. Thus the relationship between Jean-Michel and Flavie (Marie-Mai), a cultivated young woman whom the former receives in his living room every week to alleviate boredom, to the great dismay of Suzanne, struggling with activists, the media and the minister de la Santé (Caroline Néron), echoes that which Rémy (Girard) developed with Nathalie (Marie-Josée Croze) in Les invasions barbares – minus the heroine.
Despite all the faults that it is criticized for, Testament is not without its qualities. Carried by the voice of Rémy Girard, whose nuanced performance immediately seduces, the twilight feature film benefits from the fluidly elegant direction of Arcand and the warm lighting of Claudine Sauvé. We let ourselves be touched by the words tinged with melancholy of this elder who is losing his bearings.
If we don’t believe in this unexpected and unexpected romance, any more than in this botched reunion scene between a mother and her daughter, we let ourselves be delighted by this hopeful finale where Jean-Michel finds faith in humanity and finally cares about climate change. Rarely so optimistic, Denys Arcand even offers an epilogue where we attempt to repair the errors of judgment of the past.
Certainly, we can criticize many faults in Testament, clearly superior to the disastrous Reign of Beauty, but we cannot blame Denys Arcand, with a career spanning more than 60 years, for resting on his laurels in watching the world burn. At 82 years old, the man to whom we owe some of the finest jewels of Quebec cinema persists and signs in the hope of provoking reflection.