English Title: The Decline of the American Empire
Original Title: Le déclin de l’empire américain
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director: Denys Arcand
Music: François Dompierre
Cinematography: Guy Dufaux
Serving as a prequel 17 years earlier of his Oscar-winning picture THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS (2003), Denys Arcand’s Oscar-nominated THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE is a pungent satire about the clashing encounter of the cerebral front and visceral impact pursuant to sex, marriage, betrayal and gender politics.
Set in Montreal, the ensemble including four very different men (three are university professors), Pierre (Curzi), a middle-aged man dating a young girl, Rémy (Girand), a married man for 15 years, Claude (Jacques), a single gay professor, and a young bachelor Alain (Brière), while they are preparing a dinner for the evening, their four female guests, are dripping with sweat in the uptown gym, they are, Louise (Berryman), Rémy’s wife, Dominique (Michel), a spinster, Diane (Portal), a divorcée and Danielle (Rioux), Pierre’s current girlfriend, a college student and moonlights as a masseuse. Plus, a non-middle class intruder is Mario (Arcand), a curt and tough kind, who only intends to engage in some rough shafting with Diane.
It takes quite some time for first-time viewers to get acquainted with these characters and their relationships. The first half of the film is constituted and divided by men’s talk and women’s talk, both about their various sex lives, buoyed up by a snippy editing (timely injecting flashback segments to visualise their recount), these two paralleled happenings are conflated together to enlighten how different views from men and women can be, especially on the same subject matter, the conversations are all perky and self-boosting, from excesses like adultery, S&M to swapping partners in an orgy, from speech of “gratification becomes the parameter of existence” to the titular “the decline of American empire” argument (an unconvincing point-of-view brewed in the ivory tower), as haughty and snobbish as they appear, there are moments of truth within.
When the two parties finally meet, the dinner table pleasantry turns into self-revealing heart-searching, then ends up with Dominique’s spur-of-the-moment remark which causes strains upon Rémy and Louise’s marriage. An acerbic mockery of talk the talk, but not walk the talk among these self-reliant middle class intellectuals, paralysed by their verbal elaborations about their feelings and needs, while in truth, their lives are overwhelming benumbing.
Integrated an organic ensemble (Arcand, Rioux, Jacques and Michel are standouts in my pick) with a Haendel-themed spiritually enhancing soundtrack, and cinematographer Guy Dufaux’s majestic static shots (notably the opening credit, and the sublime natural scenes), THE DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE is eloquent in its tangy acuteness for sardonicism, but most of its contents are either blasé or under-developed, there is something missing in the aftertaste, maybe it is gratification.