Oscar winning French Canadian /Quebecois screenwriter, director and producer, renowned for his refusal to compromise his social and artistic values.

The career of Oscar winning French Canadian/Quebecois auteur has been a roller coaster, partly due to his refusal to compromise his social and artistic values.

Arcand became involved in film-making at university of Montreal whilst studying for a Masters degree in history. He joined the National Film Board of Canada as a documentary filmmaker (to which he continued to return throughout his career) but quickly provoked authorities with a controversial expose about the exploitation of textile workers, On est au cotton (1976), which was withdrawn from distribution.

During the 1970s he made features – Rejeanne Padovani (1973) and Gina (1975), using the thriller format to explore questions of sexual and national politics, again provoking official distrust. Television mini-series and documentaries followed until his first breakout film, The Decline of the American Empire (Le declin de l’empire americain, 1986), a clever sardonic comedy about sex (as in his other films, more discussion than action) swept the national awards, the Genies, won the critics prize at Cannes and nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

Three years later, Arcand repeated the same success with Jesus of Montreal (1989), an interesting/wry depiction of the take over of an actor’s life by the role he has been cast to play in the annual Passion play. The film received a Foreign Film Oscar nomination, a clean Genie sweep, and this time, Cannes’ prestigious Jury prize.

But his first English language film, Love and Human Remains (1993) – and later Stardom (2000) did not live up to the critical cachet created by his French language films. The Barbarian Invasions (Les invasions barbares, 2003) revisited some years on, the ensemble of the characters of The Decline of the American Empire, rallying around the hospital bedside of lecherous academic Remy, now dying of cancer and attempting to reconcile with his estranged son. Arcand spent two years writing the brilliantly witty, ironic, and acerbic script which won Best Screenplay award at Cannes (many critics felt it deserved Best Film) showed he hadn’t lost touch.

French producers passed on the story of terminal illness, death, friendship and reconciliation as lacking commercial appeal but Arcand’s scintillating script and vibrant performances from his ensemble actually turn the film a celebration of life. The Academy Award endorsed its approval with a Best Foreign Film Oscar.

But after such a high comes the problem of gravity: how to deliver equally scintillating follow-up. Thus far Barbarian Invasions remains Arcand’s 'jewel in the crown’. Subsequent works like the final film in the Decline trilogy and 2007 Cannes closing night film, Days of Darkness (L’Age des Tenebres, 2007), a satirical swipe at the dehumanising effect of bureaucracy, fail to live up to the former’s spark. But with Arcand’s hit-and-miss strike rate, another gem may be just around the corner.

– Mary Colbert