Decline of the American Empire, The (1986): Denys Arcand’s Satire of Academic World

(Le Declin de l’Empire Americain)

Canadian (French)
 
A subtle, poignant, and enjoyable film, Denys Arcand’s “The Decline of the American Empire” is one of the few successful social satires set in the academic world.
 
French Canadian director Arcand deals in an original way with the sexual politics as it defines and affects a group of male and female scholars.
 
His strategy is to cur from the male’s group to the female one and back again, until the two groups meet for one big dinner, in which secrets are unveiled and revelations disclosed.
 
The tale begins on a light tone, when the men just swap stories about their sexual escapades, while the women do more or less the same at a local gym.
 
The tone gets more serious as extramarital affairs, betrayals, and AIDS come to the fore. In the course of the serio-comedic conversations, the title of the movie gets clearer and makes sense.
 
The dialogue is sharp, the observations poignant, and the wit truly sparkling, not to mention the frankness with which Arcand as writer and director addresses issue of sexuality, seldom seen or discussed in American movies.
 
That said, some critics and viewers found the film to be too verbose, though a lot of action happens by way of words.
 
Only one or two of the large ensemble’s actors were familiar to me, but, being an academic myself, I have to praise the authenticity of Arcand’s casting: I have met in the course of my career ach one of the eight characters.
 
“The Decline of the American Empire” won the 1986 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. One of the most commercially successful French Canadian films to play in the U.S.
 
Running time: 101 Minutes