Stamp honours Denys Arcand, one of Canada’s most internationally acclaimed filmmakers

June 27, 2023
4 minute read
In 2004, his film Les invasions barbares, became the first Canadian film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

As a screenwriter, director and actor, Denys Arcand has been pivotal to the cultural landscape of Quebec for over 60 years. A shrewd observer of society, he has written and directed more than 20 films, television productions and documentaries to date. His undeniable talent has earned him dozens of awards and honours. Themes such as Quebec nationalism, unionism, corruption, decadence, and the decline of society underscore his work.

Born on June 25, 1941, Denys Arcand grew up in Deschambault, Quebec, into a family with a love for music. Famous tenor Raoul Jobin, a friend of Arcand’s father, often stayed at the family home, delighting a young Arcand. The future filmmaker also enjoyed listening to radio broadcasts of the Metropolitan Opera on Radio-Canada on Saturdays with his father.

A gifted student, Denys Arcand completed the sixth grade at age 10 and began his classical studies at Collège Sainte-Marie in Montréal, a Jesuit-run institution. He then attended the Université de Montréal, where he graduated in 1962.

This academic experience was a turning point for Arcand. He took courses given by Michel Brunet and Maurice Séguin, two historians whose viewpoints greatly influenced him. While at the Université de Montréal, he made his first film – ­­Seul ou avec d’autres (1962) – in collaboration with Denis Héroux and Stéphane Venne. The documentary was Canada’s entry at the Festival de Cannes’ Critics’ Week in 1963.

From documentaries to fiction

Denys Arcand’s productions are a reflection of Quebec cinema’s transformation. Initially focused on critical documentaries, his efforts gradually shifted toward fiction filmmaking still deeply rooted in Quebec’s sociocultural reality. His work is characterized by carefully crafted dialogue, biting social satire and an in-depth look at the issues of Quebec identity, politics and culture.

Denys Arcand on the set of Les invasions barbares in 2003, ©Miramax/courtesy Everett Collection

While his first fiction movie, La maudite galette (1972), received critical acclaim, Réjeanne Padovani (1973) was his first hit. The productions were screened at Cannes’ Critics’ Week and Directors’ Fortnight respectively, and both were well received.

It wasn’t until Le déclin de l’empire américain (1986), however, that international audiences truly took notice. The film won the International Film Critics Award (FIPRESCI) at Cannes and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, a first in the history of Quebec (and Canadian) cinema. Arcand followed with Jésus de Montréal (1989), a modern take on the main events of Christ’s life. Also nominated for an Academy Award, the film won the Jury Prize at Cannes.

Photography: © Bertrand Carrière

Arcand continued to explore social themes in his films, including Love and Human Remains (1993), his first English-language feature film, and Joyeux calvaire (1996). He co-wrote and directed Stardom (2000), which depicts the obsession with fame. This was the first Canadian feature film to be screened at the closing of Cannes, and it won a Writers Guild of Canada Top Ten Award.

The ultimate mark of recognition came with Les invasions barbares (2003), presented as the sequel to his hit Le déclin de l’empire américain. The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film; the César Awards for Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay Original or Adapted; the Award for Best Screenplay at Cannes; five Genie and six Prix Iris (formerly Jutra) awards, and more than 25 other national and international awards.

Denys Arcand, winner for Best Foreign Language Film (Canada) of the Year for Les invasions barbares, poses for the photographers in the Press Room of the 76th Annual Academy Awards in the Kodak Theater, Los Angeles, CA. Photo by Hahn-Khayat-Nebinger/ABACA.

Denys Arcand continued to make acclaimed films, including L’âge des ténèbres (2007), Le règne de la beauté (2014) and La chute de l’empire américain (2018).

Commandeur de l’Ordre de Montréal (2016), Compagnon of the Arts and Letters of Québec (2015), Grand officier de l’Ordre national du Québec (2015) and Companion of the Order of Canada (2004), Denys Arcand has left his mark on the history of Quebec and Canadian cinema.


Stamp honours Denys Arcand, one of Canada's most internationally acclaimed filmmakers

Available now