Dissatisfied upper-middle class suburbanite struggling with reality. Wife whose machinations have transformed her into a cold Real Estate shark. Teenage daughter doesn't want to acknowledge your existence. It all sounds like 1999's American Beauty, right?
Wrong. It's 2007's L'Age des tenebres (Days of Darkness) directed by Denis Arcand, a wonderful French Canadian response to its American counterpart. Yet, it's wrong to portray this film as a knock-off - there are definite differences. Beauty is a far more complex story, carefully taking you into each of the character's lives, forcing you to see how each has a superficial existence balanced against a far more complex inner world. L'Age des tenebres focuses almost exclusively on Jean-Marc and his grip on realty is far weaker than Spacey's Lester Burnham.
---L'Age's Kevin Spacey, this Jean-Marc LeBlanc, is played by Marc LeBreche. He works as a bureaucratic drone, more reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's Brazil, than of Spacey's hyper-corporate pigeonhole. While Lester Burnham's fantasy world is fixated on one of his daughter's friends, played by Mena Suvari, Jean-Marc's fantasies are far more abstract, almost comic book-like heroines, most often anchored on Diane Kruger, who plays a nymph-like companion who materializes before Jean-Marc whenever he is at his loneliest.
--- But whereas Spacey's Lester Burnham's fixation on his daughter's friend is rooted in a desire to redeem his own self worth by possessing a young girls as a sexual object, Jean-Marc's fantasies of Diane Kruger exist at another level. In a painful scene, Jean-Marc lies in bed as his wife fields work-related phone call after phone call. He has just had a painful visit with his mother who lives in a nursing home. He catches a moment between his wife's phone calls and tries to talk to her about the visit, but she brushes him off nonchalantly.
--- Jean-Marc's mind quickly transitions into his fantasy world and Diane Kruger now joins the scene. Suddenly she and Jean-Marc are sitting in front of a fire in silk pajamas. She strokes Jean-Marc's hair as he tells her of his anxieties of his mother's condition and how his mother is the only remaining link to some intangible plane where he once felt grounded and secure. Rather than launching into some ephemeral sexual release that Spacey's Lester might have been seeking, Kruger's character runs her hands through Jean-Marc's hair and says, 'this all must be very hard for you.'
---That's all he's wanting. His greatest desire is to be acknowledged.