Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
Directed by: Denys Arcand.
Produced by: Daniel Louis & Denise Robert.
Written by: Denys Arcand.
Director of Photography: Guy Dufaux.
Edited by: Isabelle Dedieu.
Music by: Pierre Aviat.
Released by: Miramax.
Country of Origin: Canada/France. 95 min. Rated: R.
With: Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau, Dorothée Berryman & Marie-Josée Croze.
Denys Arcand’s The Decline of the American Empire (1986) centers
on sexual banter and betrayal among an elite group of academics. Nearly 20
years later, the cast is reunited in this emotionally remote sequel. Rémy
(Girard), the roly-poly philanderer, is now ailing from cancer. His divorced
wife Louise (Berryman) puts aside her bitterness and summons their
wealthy son Sébastian (Rousseau), who is estranged from his father, and their
old friends to cheer Rémy up and say farewell. Sébastian spares
no expense in improving his father’s care, including bribery and scoring
drugs to ease his father’s pain. He pleads with family friend Diane to call
her heroin-addicted daughter Nathalie (Croze) to buy Rémy drugs. Nathalie, thus,
becomes Rémy’s unlikely friend. As in Decline, the characters
cloak themselves in words. Rémy, a history professor of bored
undergraduate students, declares “The history of mankind is a history of
horrors,” and sees 9/11 as the beginning of a great barbarian invasion. But
the glibness of the erudite ensemble (“Is there an ‘ism that we haven’t
worshipped?”) keeps the viewer at a distance. However, the supporting
character of the angry and indifferent Nathalie galvanizes the film. Her
growing attraction to Sébastian steals the spotlight from Rémy.
Croze’s intense, yet subtle performance won the best actress award at this
year’s Cannes Film Festival. Familiarity with the earlier film is not
necessarily, since most of the storylines from Decline are referred to
in passing. Even the interaction between wife Louise and former friend
Dominique, whose affair with Rémy was a crushing blow in
Decline, is anticlimactically smoothed over here. And
underwhelming is any film that uses footage of the attack on the World
Trade Center for one of its few emotional jolts. Kent Turner