Canada's premier director, Denys Arcand, showed his usual self-effacing irony last night after winning his Oscar for The Barbarian Invasions when he waived the opportunity to make the usual acceptance speech. Known as a critic of American culture and its excesses, he made the ultimate statement by not making one at all.
But Mr. Arcand's wife, Denise Robert, summed up the night neatly. "We're so thankful that Lord of the Rings did not qualify in this category," she said, before thanking the Canadian and Quebec governments, the U.S. distributor, Miramax and various co-producers.
When Mr. Arcand's turn came, he smiled, bowed and said: "My time is up as usual."
It was a night of triumph for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The fantasy film won 11 Oscars, tying the record set by Ben Hur and later equalled by Titanic. But it was also a triumph for Mr. Arcand, who had twice before been nominated in the category, for his films The Decline of the American Empire and Jesus of Montreal. He had never won.
The Barbarian Invasions, which is a sequel to Decline of the American Empire using the same cast 17 years later, has already won top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival, at the French Cesars and the Quebec Jutra awards. Hugely popular in Quebec, the film drew considerable press commentary for its indictment of the province's health-care system.
The Barbarian Invasions, a bittersweet story about a history professor dying of cancer who is buoyed up by his family, friends and former lovers, was the favourite in the best foreign film category. (The film was also nominated for best original screenplay.) Mr. Arcand had struggled with the story of a man facing his death, rejecting it as too depressing until he decided to bring back the lusty characters from The Decline of the American Empire.
After that, Mr. Arcand has said, the script came easily, and the film, starring Remy Girard, Stephane Rousseau as his estranged son and Marie-Josée Croze as a young heroin addict, set records in Quebec theatres.
Raised as a strict Catholic, Mr. Arcand attended Jesuit school and then studied history at the University of Montreal.
It was there that he made his first film. He later joined the National Film Board and after a series of documentaries, often dealing with politics and history, he began making feature films in the early 1970s. His breakthrough was with The Decline of the American Empire, a ribald drama about eight intellectual friends who talk about their sex lives and the changes in society around them.
Mr. Arcand's film had been chosen by 24 Canadian film professionals and critics to represent the country in the Academy Awards nomination process. It was one of more than 50 films from different countries that was be submitted. Five of those 50 were chosen to be last night's finalists.
The film, which did $5-million of sales during its Quebec summer release, was released in New York and Los Angeles by Miramax on Nov. 21 and was released across Canada at the same time .
"Denys Arcand is one of Canada's great filmmakers," Telefilm Canada chairman Richard Stursburg said when the nomination was announced. Mr. Stursburg praising his Mr. Arcand's "touching observations on humanity." Telefilm helped finance The Barbarian Invasions and chaired the selection committee for Canada's Oscar contender.
Quebec's media have been passionately following Mr. Arcand's awards quests and a large contingent travelled to Hollywood.