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Decline of the American Empire, The

Director: Denys Arcand

1986. English subtitles. Colour. 101 minutes.


Such was the impact of Denys Arcand’s 1986 art-house hit The Decline of the American Empire that the director was to return to the same characters sixteen years later with his new movie, The Barbarian Invasions, which is also showing in this programme. Despite its title, which refers to one of the characters’ thesis about the decline of North American culture, this is in fact an intimate chamber piece in which a group of academics and their friends or lovers discuss their private lives. The chief male protagonists are all history professors. As they prepare a gourmet meal, they talk about sex. Meanwhile, the women who will be the guests at supper spend the afternoon in a health club, where they discuss their own sexual experiences in graphic detail. As both sexes settle down to the meal, the conversation takes in a wide range of social and political issues before the gloves come off and the fur begins to fly.
Always an astute observer, Arcand avoids taking a moral stance and clearly sympathises with most of his characters. If this were a Hollywood movie, it would be a battle-of-the-sexes comedy. Arcand makes it much more than that, with the intelligent banter touching on issue of family, relationships of all kinds and world politics. The film is almost an anthem for a generation of former radicals who are now locked into sexual adventure as their only outlet for action.

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