Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Decline of the American Empire (Not a movie review)


I was drawn to “
The decline of the American empire” after I first watched Denys Arcand’s “The Barbarian Invasions” a few years ago. In the “Barbarian Invasions” a dying Remy Girard and his brethren gather at a lakeside cottage in Quebec. They reminisce about their past loves, escapades and their lives watched over by Remy’s estranged son Sebastien who is visiting his father after years. This movie is also about looking back, taking stock about their lives and introspection especially at a point when the blush of youth is pretty much gone and their metamorphoses both physical and within them are so very obvious. This movie was in a lot of ways a celebration of life, love, family and friendships.

Observing these self absorbed, but witty and very human characters made me curious about “The decline of the American empire” which preceded this movie. I finally managed to watch it a few days back. When made originally in 1986 it was celebrated as an excellent example of film making. While some movies that may examine the zeitgeist of their times age remarkably well, holding their relevance over time, the same cannot be said about “The decline of the American empire”. And I am not talking about the “oh so” obviously visible signs of the 80s such as the fashions and the hairstyles.

This movie happens over a fall evening as four academics, Remy (Remy Girard) married and a professor of history, Claude (Yves Jacques) who is gay, Pierre (Pierre Curzi) who is divorced and living with a student Danielle (who he meets at a massage parlor), and Alain (Daniel Briere) who is single talk about sex, women their loves and their affairs as they cook dinner for the four women.

Their women guests are Louis (Remy’s wife played by Dorothee Berryman, has no idea of his dalliances), Dominique (Dominique Michel) a writer and a colleague of the guys, Diane (Louise Portal) has left her husband and begun a sadomasochistic affair with Mario (Gabriel Arcand), a rough, leather-jacket clad drug dealer, and Danielle (Genevieve Rioux) are working out at a health gym. They also discuss sex, the female body and of course men!

Although I watched the English version (dubbed), I have to say I would rather have preferred hearing the French dialog( although I don’t understand the language, I love the sound of it).

Having said that, I could not shake the feeling that I was watching something dated. I just thought that while at that point (1980s) this movie might have captured the mood of the times perfectly, it was hard to believe that the fall of Western civilization/ America was going to be laid at the doorstep of a few oversexed academic intellectuals. I mean come on look at what seems to be doing us in today?

But back on to the movie. There really is not much of a plot here, but the dialog is witty, sharp and funny and the characters are quite compelling and well fleshed out in all their foibles, phobias and compulsions. The movie is not all talky and wordy, there are flashbacks that help the viewer get a good sense of the characters. As the evening proceeds, there is turmoil as Dominique, reveals that she has slept with both Remy and Pierre, but her current lover (for the night) is the young student Alain who is besotted with her sophistication.

But perhaps the best line in the movie belongs to, Mario, Diane’s boyfriend who waits around while the men are cooking and at dinner states "They talked about sex all afternoon as if they were getting ready for an orgy. Instead, the big deal is a fish pie!"

The movie does ask some interesting questions and explores the nature of sex and its relationship to middle age, marriage and cultural mores. But I don’t think the decline of Western civilization can be laid at the doorstep of over sexed intellectuals no?

18 comments:

Asha said...

Happy Navratri to you and A, Sanjay. Enjoy!:))

starry nights said...

Interesting movie.loved your review.how are you doing?

moegirl said...

I think oversexed intellectuals seem to be the least of our worries. Makes the 80s seem almost innocent!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sanjay!

Great review as always. I'm sorry the film has lost some of its relevance over the years but from what you describe it's easy to see why it was such a huge hit in North America in the 1980's.

I love movies with witty and interesting dialogues and I sure this movie had its fair share...a pity about it being dubbed in English though...I much prefer subtitles to dubbing.

"The Barbarian Invasions" interests me a great lot, I will have to put it on my zip queue.

Take care Sanjay and I hope you're having an excellent week!

Sanjay said...

@Asha. Thank you. I wish you the same, I am sure you are cooking up a feast?

@Starry.. Thanks. I am doing ok, only now getting around to blogging and blogs again.

@ Moegirl. I think you are so right!!!

Sanjay said...

Hey Lotus. How are you? My week has been ok and my weekend begins early, so I am sort of thrilled! Thanks! :)

I hope you are having a good week too?

Thank you for your comment and kind words. I did not mind that the movie sort of lost its relevance, but having said that I still found it absorbing thanks to the great acting and witty dialog.

I agree about the subtitles too. For some reason I could not get the m to appear and it was strange to hear the actors speak English while their lips were not in sync at all.

Oh you will enjoy "The Barbarian Invasions" me thinks, if you get to watch it in French perhaps even more so. I am glad zip is working out for you. I am tempted to revisit the movie again, since I last saw it almost 4 years ago.

Take care Lotus and hope you have a wonderful Friday.

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