How acclaimed filmmaker Denys Arcand went from earning an Oscar nomination for the screenplay of “The Barbarian Invasions” to writing the truly execrable script for “An Eye for Beauty” is an even greater mystery than what drives his characters to make their oft illogical decisions. Instead of a relationship drama, the film works better as a 100-minute ad for Canadian travel or the benefits of competitive sports for adults. Its failure to succeed on any level but the visual is all the more puzzling due to its provenance from a celebrated director with decades of experience.
At the shallow heart of “An Eye for Beauty” is Luc (Éric Bruneau), a talented architect who is married to athletic beauty Stéphanie (Mélanie Thierry). The couple has a stunning home on the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, shown through green-tinted views of the Canadian wild. The film stresses Luc’s happiness, and he enjoys what appears to be an sexy and romantic relationship with this wife. So it’s surprising when all it takes during a business trip to Toronto is a glance from Lindsay (Melanie Merkosky) to embark on a heated affair. Physically, their chemistry is palpable from early on through lingering glances and quick touches, which quickly evolve into intimacy. They continue their secret romance while Stéphanie grows ever unhappier at home.
The film is perhaps the best argument against style over substance. Nathalie Moliavko-Visotzky’s cinematography is truly stunning, whether she’s capturing Luc and Stéphanie’s lovely country home in Charlevoix or the cityscape of Toronto. There’s equally loving attention paid to beauty in both nature and architecture, but none of that quality is evident in the screenplay. In particular, the dialogue is stilted, especially when it switches to English for the Toronto-set portions of the script.
While Arcand has previously shown insight into human interaction in “The Barbarian Invasions” and four decades of movie work, none of that is evident here. “An Eye for Beauty” feels like it was written by an alien who learned about human behavior from soap operas. This is compounded by the mostly repellent characters that populate the movie. They’re snobs who make fun of each other for knowing what IKEA looks like on the day of a sale, without any sense of irony from either the script or the people in it. They say awful, pretentious things and yet there is little accountability for their actions or words. Motivations are unknown for most of the major characters, and even a subplot involving the death of a close friend that should inspire sympathy, doesn’t have the desired effect. It all comes across as an unintentional simulacrum of real life and real relationships, with no awareness that what it’s presenting is unforgivably hollow.
The other weird quirk of the film is the fetishization of sports, with slo-mo shots of tennis serves, golf swings and hockey goals. These can be graceful achievements, but by the time the third one happens, it feels like Zack Snyder is behind and the camera and has directed an oddly languid, multi-sport episode of “30 for 30.” Self-serious and offering little of the way of real substance, it’s hard to muster much enthusiasm for the pretty people in pretty locations in “An Eye For Beauty,” and the outcome of their melodramas. [D+]