Denys Arcand’s chatty examination of a group of middle-aged intellectuals brought a hint of Woody Allen to the wilds of the Canadian film landscape, eclipsing linguistic politics with sex, and successfully reframing the next generation’s existential crisis as more of a personal concern than a nationalist struggle
LE DÉCLIN DE L’EMPIRE AMÉRICAIN (1986)
Directed by: Denys Arcand
Starring: Dominique Michel, Dorothée Berryman, Louise Portal, Geneviève Rioux, Pierre Curzi, Rémy Girard, Yves Jacques, Gabriel Arcand.
Running time: 101 minutes
MPAA Rating; Restricted
A veritable classic, and the first film to truly establish Canada on the populist film map, Le déclin de l’empire américain is a satirical, and undeniably poignant, look at a group of self-absorbed University of Montreal professors who have analyzed their world and themselves into a state of emotional numbness.
Over the course of the Oscar-nominated movie, which opens with one history professor (Dominique Michel) expounding her theory about the decline of the American empire, cracks begin to appear in their near-impeccable intellectual facades. We discover that one woman is addicted to a potentially dangerous sadomasochistic relationship, another woman is screwing her friend’s husband, and yet another character is dying of AIDS.
Juxtaposed against the timeless, natural beauty of Quebec’s Eastern Townships, all the yapping and hypocrisy within the country house forms a beautifully flawed counterpoint to the world outside, suggesting all the brainpower in the world may actually be a liability when it comes to enjoying the small pleasures life has to offer – such as the delicious dinner reaching their plates, as well as the comfort of friends.
Funny and moving all at the same time thanks to director Arcand’s ability to find beauty in the flaws, Le Déclin de l’empire américain remains a high watermark on the Canadian filmscape and one of the best comments on the materialistic 1980s ever put to film.
Winner of eight Genies in 1987, including best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best film editing and the Golden Reel award for best box-office, raking in a domestic total of $1.9 million.
– Katherine Monk