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The Decline of the American Empire (1986)

Le déclin de l'empire américain (original title)
Sexual revelations emerge when a group of academics and their partners spend a weekend at a country retreat.

Director:

Denys Arcand

Writers:

Denys Arcand, Gabriel Arcand (collaborating writer) | 6 more credits »

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Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 13 wins & 6 nominations. See more awards »

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Dominique Michel ... Dominique St. Arnaud
Dorothée Berryman ... Louise
Louise Portal ... Diane Leonard
Pierre Curzi ... Pierre
Rémy Girard ... Rémy
Yves Jacques ... Claude
Geneviève Rioux ... Danielle
Daniel Brière ... Alain
Gabriel Arcand ... Mario
Évelyn Regimbald Évelyn Regimbald ... Theresa
Lisette Guertin Lisette Guertin
Alexandre Remy Alexandre Remy ... Transvestite
Ariane Frédérique Ariane Frédérique
Jean-Paul Bongo Jean-Paul Bongo ... Mustafa
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Storyline

A group of academics at the University of Montreal - most long time friends - are planning on gathering at the lakeside recreational home of Rémy and Louise, who have been together for twenty years, married for fifteen of them, for dinner. Louise knows Rémy cheats on her, but believes he only does so when she is not around, about which she accepts. Their recreational home is adjacent to many of the recreational homes of the others, who are: divorced Pierre, his much younger current girlfriend Danielle who is a student at the university, the two who are still in the stage of newfound love, divorced mother Diane, independent minded Dominique, single homosexual Claude, and graduate student Alain. While the four men prepare the dinner, the four women are working out together in the gym. The common factor between the two groups is the topic of conversation: sex, especially as it relates to themselves. But underlying each of the conversations is their own academic and thus intellectual ... Written by Huggo

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Plot Keywords:

sex | dinner | university | gym | weekend | See All (71) »

Genres:

Comedy | Drama

Certificate:

R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

Canada

Language:

French | English

Release Date:

14 November 1986 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Decline of the American Empire See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

CAD 1,800,000 (estimated)

Opening Weekend USA:

$41,854, 16 November 1986, Limited Release

Gross USA:

$1,902,706
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Color:

Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider. See more »

Connections

Featured in The Hour: Episode #7.72 (2011) See more »

Soundtracks

Music themes
by George Frideric Handel.
See more »

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User Reviews

 
A serious comedy
24 July 2006 | by bandwSee all my reviews

If you do not like dialog driven movies, then you will not like this, since it consists primarily of talk about sex with some general philosophizing added. With "The Decline of the American Empire" I don't know if director Arcand has served up a sweet dessert with a core of bitter almonds or a drink of Angostura bitters sweetened with a sugar cube. I lean toward the latter.

I liked the leisurely pace of the opening credits which play over a long tracking shot moving down a long concourse terminating in our meeting two of the main characters - Dominique and Diane. Diane, a journalist for "Writers Today," is interviewing Dominique about her new book, "Changing Concepts of Happiness." Right up front we are introduced to the main thesis which is that a society is in decline when it becomes more concerned with individual happiness and instant gratification rather than with the general good. In such a society people resist sacrifice and marriages break down as people pursue personal happiness. What happens in the rest of the movie illustrates the point.

In short order we are introduced to two more women, Louise and Danielle, who are working out in a gym. They are joined by Diane and Dominique and, during their workouts, the women discuss in intimate detail some of their past sexual exploits.

Then we are introduced to four men (Remy, Pierre, Alain, Claude) who are preparing an elegant dinner for the four women we have already met. Remy, Pierre, Claude are faculty in the history department of a Quebec university and Alain is a student. Dominique is the chairman of the department, Diane is a teaching assistant there, Louise is the wife of Remy and Danielle is Pierre's partner and an undergraduate, so it's a pretty close-knit bunch of intellectuals. As the men prepare the meal they talk endlessly about their sexual exploits as well, but, as can be imagined, the tone of their conversation is a bit different from the women's. We are clearly well into the post sexual revolution era as much adultery is confessed and sexual fantasies revealed, and Claude's homosexuality is totally accepted. It is an ironic twist that the men are preparing dinner and the women are in the gym, *but* the women are in the gym so that they can be more sexually attractive to men.

I asked myself why I found the men's banter more entertaining than what I have overheard many times in men's locker rooms, and the answer is that it is witty and literate rather than crude and unimaginative. Perhaps more importantly all the actors seem to be having such fun and deliver their lines with such enthusiasm that it rubs off. Also, while "The Decline of the American Empire" is no "Big Night," the dinner preparations and ultimate product are not without interest. Unless you are a gourmet cook, you will learn, as I did, about "vesiga," "velouté," "coulibiac," and "mousseline."

And there are some special treats like when the four men act out a little dance about how they have to engage in that activity to please their women. While dancing they give voice to topics that they pretend interest in, for the same purpose. Their dance is clever, tightly choreographed, and hilarious.

The musical score is suitably highbrow, with a little help from Handel and Francois Dompierre.

So, why do I think that "The Decline of the American Empire" is ultimately depressing? Because it illustrates too well the destructive effects of the selfish pursuit of personal happiness, particularly with regard to sexual gratification. None of the relationships here is stable. And the philosophizing at the end espouses a cynical pessimism that intellectuals seem particularly good at. There is discussion to the effect that people should speak about what they know, and that's it. For example, "the Pope knows all about masturbation and prostate ailments. He can talk about that - and the CIA. Don't underestimate the Pope." The group goes on to skewer Marx, Freud, Jung, sociologists, psychologists, and even themselves. They quote Wittgenstein to justify some of their behavior: "Our only certainty is to act with our bodies." Academics, you gotta love 'em.

If you go on to see the sequel, "The Barbarian Invasions" (same actors, same characters, seventeen years later) you will see that Remy's life is a metaphor for the more general thesis expounded in "The Decline of the American Empire." Each movie stands alone, but each benefits from having seen the other.


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