Denys Arcand

Georges-Henri Denys Arcand CC GOQ (French: [dəni aʁkɑ̃]; born June 25, 1941) is a French Canadian film director, screenwriter and producer. His film The Barbarian Invasions won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 2004[1]. His films have also been nominated three further times, including two nominations in the same category for The Decline of the American Empire in 1986[2] and Jesus of Montreal in 1989[3], becoming the only French-Canadian director in history whose films have received this number of nominations and, subsequently, to have a film win the award. Also for The Barbarian Invasions, he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, losing to Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation.[4]

Denys Arcand

Georges-Henri Denys Arcand

(1941-06-25) June 25, 1941
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter, film producer
Years active1962–present
Spouse(s)Denise Robert
AwardsBest Director
2003 The Barbarian Invasions
Best Film
2003 The Barbarian Invasions
Best Writing
2003 The Barbarian Invasions
Genie Award for Best Direction
1986 The Decline of the American Empire
1989 Jesus of Montreal
2003 The Barbarian Invasions
Genie Award for Best Original Screenplay
1986 The Decline of the American Empire
1989 Jesus of Montreal
2003 The Barbarian Invasions

During his four decades career, he became the most globally recognized director from Quebec, winning many awards from the Cannes Film Festival, including the Best Screenplay Award, the Jury Prize, and many other prestigious awards worldwide. He won three César Awards in 2004 for The Barbarian Invasions: Best Director, Best Original Screenplay and Best Film, being the only Canadian director to have accomplished this.

Arcand has directed three Canadian films that have received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film and three films in the Toronto International Film Festival's 2004 list of the top 10 Canadian films of all time.[5]

Early life

Arcand was born in Deschambault, Quebec, Canada. He grew up in a devoutly Roman Catholic home in a village about 40 km southwest of Quebec City. He attended Jesuit school for nine years. Entering his teen years, the family moved to Montreal and although he dreamed about being a professional tennis player, while studying for a master's degree in history at the Université de Montréal he became involved in film making, which gave him a new sense of direction.


In 1963, he joined the National Film Board of Canada where he produced several award-winning documentaries in his native French language. A social activist, he made a feature-length documentary in 1970 titled On est au coton (We work in Cotton) that showed the exploitation of textile workers. The film caused an uproar that resulted in it not being distributed publicly for several years. Arcand received such publicity that it gave his fledgling career a great boost. He also worked on some television series, notably Duplessis, a historical work he wrote (but did not direct) about Premier Maurice Duplessis.

During the early part of the 1970s Arcand produced a number of feature films that received critical acclaim. Arcand returned to directing documentaries and did no work for television. In 1982, his documentary, Le confort et l'indifférence won the Best Film prize from the Quebec Film Critics' Association. In 1986 he wrote and directed what was until then the highest-grossing film in Quebec (and Canadian) history, The Decline of the American Empire (Le Déclin de l'empire américain).

At the Canadian Genie Awards, it captured best film, best director, and best writer of an original screenplay. It also won the "International Critics Prize" at the Cannes Film Festival and became the first Canadian feature film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Three years later Arcand repeated this award-garnering performance with his widely acclaimed 1989 film Jesus of Montreal (Jésus de Montréal) winning the same three Genie awards, plus the Jury Prize at Cannes. The movie earned him a second Academy Award nomination, becoming the first Canadian director to accomplish this achievement.

Arcand produced and directed his first English language film in 1993, titled Love and Human Remains, and did so again in 2000, with the film Stardom, which opened the Toronto International Film Festival. He then spent two years writing the script for what many claim is his finest piece of cinematic writing to date, The Barbarian Invasions (Les invasions barbares). Released in 2003, the film won Arcand the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival, was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best Foreign Language Film and won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In addition, Denys Arcand was nominated for an Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay. The Barbarian Invasions won France's 2004 César Award for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay.[6]

Arcand's film Days of Darkness (L'Âge des ténèbres) was chosen to close the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.[7] The press opening was subdued and the subsequent reviews were mixed.[8] Following this, he took a seven-year hiatus from feature film directing; he returned in 2014 with the film Le règne de la beauté.


In 1988, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada and was promoted to Companion in 2005.[9] In 1990 the Government of France awarded him the Legion of Honour. He finally earned from his home province one of its highest distinctions, the title of Knight of the National Order of Quebec, in 1990.[10]

In 1995, Mr. Arcand received a Governor General's Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Artistic Achievement.[11] In February 2004, the government of France named Denys Arcand a Commander of L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, that nation's highest cultural honour. In 2004, Arcand was also inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.[12]

He is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.[13]

Personal life

Married a second time, neither Arcand nor Denise Robert, his producer/wife, have had children. He was 55 years old when they adopted an orphaned baby girl from China named Mingxia. His brother Bernard Arcand (1945–2009) was a professor of anthropology. His youngest brother Gabriel Arcand (b. 1949) is a noted Canadian actor. Denys Arcand is a lapsed Catholic.[14] He is also a distant cousin of the white suprematist leader, Adrien Arcand.




  • Champlain (Short film, 1964)
  • Québec 1603 - Samuel de Champlain (Short film, 1964)
  • Les Montréalistes (Short film, 1965)
  • Montréal, un jour d'été (Short film, 1965)
  • La route de l'Ouest (Short film, 1965)
  • Volleyball (Short film, 1966)
  • Parcs atlantiques (Short film, 1967)
  • On est au coton (1970)
  • Québec : Duplessis et après... (1972)
  • La lutte des travailleurs d'hôpitaux (Short film, 1976)
  • Le confort et l'indifférence (1982)


  1. "The Barbarian Invasions" Wins Foreign Language Film: 2004 Oscars
  2. "The Assault" Wins Best Foreign Language Film: 1987 Oscars
  3. Cinema Paradiso" Wins Foreign Language Film: 1990 Oscars
  4. Sofia Coppola winning Best Original Screenplay-Oscars on YouTube
  5. "Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time," The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2012, URL accessed 28 April 2013.
  6. Fouché, Gwladys (2004-02-23). "Barbarian Invasions overwhelms Césars". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2018-01-04.
  7. "Festival de Cannes: L'Âge des ténèbres". Retrieved 2009-12-20.
  8. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-04-06. Retrieved 2009-05-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. Office of the Governor General of Canada. Order of Canada citation. Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 24 May 2010
  10. Ordre national du Quebec
  11. "Denys Arcand - biography". Governor General's Performing Arts Awards Foundation. Retrieved 24 January 2014.
  12. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-10-30. Retrieved 2007-01-07.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. "Members since 1880". Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Archived from the original on 2011-05-26.
  14. Donna Rosenthal, "THE PASSION OF DENYS ARCAND," The Washington Post, 22 July 1990, URL accessed 4 August 2016.
  15. TIFF 2018: Denys Arcand a fan of festival's good old days|Montreal Gazette

Further reading

  • Michel Coulombe, Denys Arcand. La vraie nature du cinéaste, (entretiens), Montréal: Boréal 1993
  • André Loiselle, Brian McIllroy (éd.), Auteur/Provocateur. The Films of Denys Arcand, Westport: Praeger 1995
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