Beautiful people living in beautiful houses surrounded by stunningly beautiful Canadian landscapes dominate the aptly titled An Eye For Beauty, which unfortunately also demands a stomach for tedium. The film’s protagonist, Luc (Éric Bruneau), an incredibly buff young Québecois architect, spends most of his time skiing, hunting, playing tennis, and growing primo weed behind the self-designed hillside dream home he shares with his equally gorgeous and fit wife, Stéphanie (Mélanie Thierry). Luc’s life is basically perfect, and that doesn’t appreciably change when he embarks upon an affair with Lindsay (Melanie Merkosky), a woman he meets in Toronto while serving as a judge for some sort of architecture competition. An Eye For Beauty should have passion on its side, if nothing else—when movies about infidelity go wrong, it’s usually because they’re overwrought—but torrid quickly gives way to tepid in this bizarrely bland portrait of an emotional non-crisis. Even suicidal depression somehow comes across as eminently shrugworthy.
Perhaps that’s intentional, in some deeply misguided way. Writer-director Denys Arcand (The Decline Of The American Empire, The Barbarian Invasions) seems to be aiming here at an especially tricky target: the Rohmer-esque “moral tale,” in which human behavior is too complex for cause-and-effect relationships. Stéphanie, for example, grows increasingly despondent over the course of the movie, even though she knows nothing about Luc’s affair (and is herself making out with another woman on the sly), and the most charitable interpretation is that Arcand means to depict the subterranean fissures that such a dalliance can unwittingly introduce to a marriage. Trouble is, neither the film’s superficially picturesque direction nor its aggressively mundane screenplay nor its painfully wooden actors communicate any such subtleties. These are overwhelmingly boring people who lead utterly uninteresting lives, and there’s not much for most viewers to do except envy their perfect bodies, obscene wealth, and abundance of leisure time.
There’s so little going on with the primary narrative that Arcand has to toss in several digressions just to pad out the running time. One minor supporting character gets sick and dies, which is sad but has zero relevance to anything else in the film. Marie-Josée Croze (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly) turns up repeatedly as Luc and Stéphanie’s friend, Isabelle; she doesn’t do much (and has to suffer through a ludicrous sight gag in which her character, a doctor, appears to be giving Luc head while examining him for a possible STD), but her relaxed professionalism makes the rest of the cast look amateurish by comparison. That’s especially true of Bruneau, whose failure to provide Luc with any discernible interior life borders on the uncanny. At one point, Luc gets up in the middle of the night during a tryst with Lindsay and checks into a cheap hotel, broods in the dark for a bit, and then apparently returns. (“Apparently” because the movie cuts to Luc and Lindsay silently eating breakfast at the ritzy hotel they were fucking in the night before.) Why he left and why he went back are equally unclear. Bruneau’s male-model blankness renders Luc’s actions not so much mysterious as just random, and connecting them with Stéphanie’s depression requires reading not between the lines but between entire pages, if not chapters.
Again, it’s possible to construct justifications for these ostensible flaws. Arcand clearly had something ambitious in mind—the whole story is told in flashback, and the present-day epilogue suggests a degree of cynicism that retroactively gives An Eye For Beauty considerably more weight. But that doesn’t change how banal and incurious the film feels as it actually unfolds. A beautiful building that collapses at the first mild gust of wind or light snowfall is no use to anybody. Neither is a movie that’s structurally unsound.