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
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/
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?