Le déclin de l'empire américain

Note: this a new series of reviews I'm installing on Le Mot du Cinephiliaque. Since I was born and raised in the Province of Québec I've decided to present and review some of the films that populate my culture and that represents the Cinema of here. The feature will be called after our license plate motto: "Je me souviens" for "I remember".

Le déclin de l'empire américain aka The Decline of the American Empire (Denys Arcand, 1986)

Nominated for the Oscar for Best foreign film in 1987, Le déclin(...) is one of the few films that Quebecois are truly proud. Even if it didn't aged really well, this "auteur" film is the first part of the sequel to Les invasions barbares aka The Barbarians Invasions that won the Oscar for Best foreign film in 2004. Both films written and directed by respected director Denys Arcand who came into filmmaking by the documentary feature first, like many Quebecois directors Pierre Perreault and Michel Brault just to name a few. Early in his career he was a committed documentary filmmaker but with the coming of the referendum of 1980 he decided to emancipate himself and make films for the US market. Letting aside his personal aesthetic and the long monologues that characterized his direct Cinema, Arcand didn't succeed with his two English langage films. However, success came with the release of Le déclin(...), a very personal film made with a bunch of very talented and well known actors of the Province like Dominique Michel, Dorothée Berryman, Louise Portal, Pierre Curzy, Rémi Girard (Incendies), and Yves Jacques amongst others.

A synopsis of the film isn't necessary, it reprensents well educated adults who discuss about life, sex, relationships, and the preoccupations of our society. It fells like a nice mix of Eric Rohmer, Woody Allen (Hannah and Her Sisters), late 1960's Jean-Luc Godard but everything with a little bit of Maple syrup just to keep it Québécois enough. The monologues and the storytelling is quite unique and the modern day viewer may find some characters annoying, it is indeed done in purpose. Lots of characters are more than despicable, the represent they bourgeois Baby boomers of the Quebecois society. The plot is thin and this is clearly an observation by Arcand on his peers and probably on his life. He depicts how the men and women are in a battle of sex and how social success and accomplishment is only available by the number of partners or how your sexual life makes you happier than the next person. It is filled with sardonic and cynical commentaries with an erudit sense of rightness and an immersing society study. The documentary eye of the director is never far and the way he lets the scenes flow and take place without editing uselessly feels like he puts a microscope on the group of people he choose to observe.

In his country, Denys Arcand is a celebrated director and of the living director he is regarded as the most brilliant. However, in the Province of Québec people tend to have a short memory when it comes to Art or Culture and they easily forgot Claude Jutra, Gilles Carle, Frédéric Back, Michel Brault, Pierre Perreault, Gilles Groulx, Jean-Claude Lauzon, Jean-Claude Lord just to name a few.
Arcand's film might not please everyone's tastes but it is a Classic and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to know just a little more about my part of the world.



  1. Ah this is a great idea for a series!

    I am familiar with Arcand, and love his films including this one. But the bad Canadian I am, I only recognize a couple of those other names. I blame it on being an Anglophone who lives on the other side of the country, where geographically, Hollywood is less than half the distance from me as Montréal is. Luckily with your help, I can start bridging some of that gap.

  2. Thanks BT.

    It will be a pleasure for me to present those movies. I understand that the films made in Québec are more regional and sometimes the geography and/or the lack of intetrest may get in the way of the West Canadians. However, the names I listed are almost unknown to many Québécois as well. So don't be ashamed! The only film made in Québec in the Criterion collection, Mon oncle antoine is almost unknown by the public here. I already reviewed it here but I am planning on a revisit of this great masterpiece.


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