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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Decline of the American Empire
(Déclin de l'empire américain, Le)

Everything you wanted to know about sex

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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October 29, 2008 -- This French Canadian version of a Woody Allen movie features a bunch of intellectuals talking frankly about sex. That is pretty much it. Not much else happens. The dialogue is sharp and sassy, which is a good thing, because 90 percent of this film is about dialogue. There is a bit about the decline of the American empire, of course, but it is window dressing for the real story, much like the sound truck spiel in “Nashville.” Although the movie is all about sex talk, the talk is observant, revealing and explicit, but not titillating. This is the first of a trilogy of films by director Denys Arcand, followed by Les Invasions barbared (The Barbarian Invasions, or Invasion of the Barbarians) in 2003 and Âge des ténèbres, L' (Days of Darkness or The Age of Ignorance) in 2007. I saw the middle one first, and haven't seen the last one. So far the middle one is by far the best of the lot.

The basic structure of the movie has women talking to other women at a gym, and men talking to men while preparing a meal at a plush country estate. These two acts are intercut, sometimes for comic effect to highlight the differing views of sex by the two sexes. In the third act, the men and women eat dinner and drink wine together, talking mostly about sex and the decline of the American Empire. All of the men and women are connected one way or other to a University history department. The decline of the American empire is addressed in two main ways, one through an interview with an author at the beginning of the film and the other by a thesis being written by a student of history, who is also having an affair with a history professor.

In addition to straight heterosexuals, there is one homosexual man and several women who have had sex with other women. Whether or not they are actually bisexual is not specified. There are several sex scenes in the movie, but none are explicit. There is also one sado-masochistic affair. A number of extra-marital affairs are discussed in casual conversations. Rémy Girard plays a history professor who has raised adultery to record-setting levels. One woman says Rémy has had affairs with every woman in town. Rémy says his numerous affairs spice his love life with his own wife. His wife does not see it that way. Women have a very different idea of sex and love than men have, and each character has his own idea of sex and love which may or may not be shared by the others, just as the sexual behavior of each is judged differently by each character. If hedonism is a symptom of the decline of American civilization, then this film is an example of that decline.

The characters also put forth other theories about signs of the decline of the American civilization, including: stronger roles for women are a sign of decline, the pursuit of happiness is a sign of decline, falling birthrates, indulgent consumerism, collapse of educational systems, etc. Having seen this film in the year 2008, when the collapse of the American empire is evident to anyone with half a brain, this film, released in 1986, is a triviality. It plays like a cheap version of a Woody Allen film, who specializes in films like this. Since the year 2000 the American empire has suffered a collapse few imagined possible in 1999. Maybe Denys Arcand foresaw what was about to happen, but his vision of the decline is nowhere near as scary as the real one. As a movie with a lot of clever talk about sex and love, this is pretty good. As a movie about the decline of the American empire it pales in comparison to the real thing. This film rates a B. I might have liked it better if I understood French, which is the film's original spoken language. I tried the English soundtrack on the DVD, but that was too distracting, due to the differences between the English subtitles and spoken dialogue.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2008 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)