The first image in Matthew Bissonnette’s reflective movie, Death of a Ladies’ Man, is a giant-sized mural of the late poet Leonard Cohen on the side of a building in Montreal. This is not a haphazard choice on the part of the director. The spirit of Cohen’s songs, at once melancholy and plaintive, permeates this Canadian-Irish production, which will be available on VOD platforms and in select theaters on March 12.
Cohen’s melodies merge seamlessly with the plot, which revolves around Samuel (Gabriel Byrne), an aging Irish-born, Montreal-based university professor whose life is torn asunder by a series of events.
Samuel’s second marriage, to a woman about half his age, falls apart after he catches her in bed with her younger lover. He’s angry and hurt, but, as his wife protests in self-defence, he is acting hypocritically, having broken his marital vows repeatedly. “How many women have you fucked in our bed?” she asks archly. Before he storms out of their apartment, she informs him she is filing for a divorce. Samuel is clearly having a very bad day.
Samuel’s adult son (Antoine Olivier Pilon), a professional hockey player, reveals a secret when he meets him in a cafe. It’s quite a surprise, but Samuel reacts with equanimity. “You’re still my darling little boy,” he says tenderly.
Shortly afterward, Samuel experiences hallucinations. At a hockey game, the players perform a graceful ballet on ice. Next, Samuel meets the ghost of his late father (Brian Gleeson), a chatty man who dispenses sound advice. Then, while Samuel delivers a disjointed lecture to his students, the room explodes with bright images.
Concerned by the state of his health, plus his alcoholism, Samuel confides in a friend, who responds, “You’re going bat-shit crazy.”
This could not be further from the truth. Having consulted a doctor and submitted to medical tests, Samuel learns he has a malignant tumor on the brain.
Thrown into despair, Samuel retreats into the comfort zone of familiar faces. He visits his 18-year-old daughter, Josee (Karelle Tremblay), an actress, but he’s disappointed by her drug addiction and her penchant for foul language. She, in turn, complains he was not around during her childhood.
Samuel absorbs another blow when his first wife (Suzanne Clement), with whom he is still on friendly terms, tells him she’s getting married again.
Fed up with the vicissitudes of life, Samuel pays a visit to Ireland to assess his situation and write a book. In short order, the ghost of his father returns once more to offer timely advice. And Samuel meets Charlotte (Jessica Pare), an attractive younger woman of Irish and French Canadian descent with whom he has a fling. The Irish interregnum, followed by his return to Montreal, have a calming and beneficial effect on Samuel.
Death of a Ladies’ Man, a workmanlike film featuring a competent cast, has its moments, but on the whole, it fails to leave a lasting or memorable impression.