Don’t let the title of this one confuse you; one look at the poster up there, and it is clearly evident what this film is really about. I made a concerted effort a while back to knock out all the films on the list that weren’t in my personal edition of the Book, which meant that I ended up seeing the sequel to this film before this one itself. Back then, I wasn’t sure if I had ended up doing the right thing or not, and decided to leave it until this one finally rolled around. The Decline of the American Empire, directed by Denys Arcand, is not about the decline of the American empire, despite the title. Really, it’s about one thing, and one thing only, and if you can’t stomach nearly two hours of a small group of people talking about this one subject, then this film is definitely not for you, since that’s pretty much all this is.
The film follows four men and four women as they prepare for a group dinner together. The men are at the house preparing the dinner, and the women are at the gym basically killing time until the dinner; they stay separated until they finally meet for the dinner in the second act. This one is very much like its sequel, The Barbarian Invasions, in tone and in material, but with a much more narrowed focus; where Barbarian had the characters talking about all sorts of topics relating to life in general, Decline instead chooses to focus only on one aspect of life: sex. The girls talk about sex, their affairs, what it’s like to have sex with different kinds of people, etc. The guys talk about sex, women, their affairs — sound a little redundant for a nearly two-hour-long film? Well, guess what; it is. It’s only in the third act that things finally do get shaken up, when the characters’ discussions about sex and affairs inadvertently reveals some secrets they’d have, for once, rather not let the others know. For me, though, this sudden injection of conflict isn’t really enough to wash away the taste of the hour of dialogue before. The acting was… odd, to put it the simplest way. No matter what the actors were discussing, they had this overblown, theatrical bombastic quality to their “acting like real, everyday people” that got more annoying as the film went on. As for the technicals, just like Barbarian, they were very well done without being notable or amazing in any particular way. There were many opportunities where I noticed a good dolly move or focus pull, but the camerawork and production value were otherwise invisible.
There were a few other stray threads of other plotlines that were hinted at, but never expanded upon, which I took as the film trying to make the universe the film takes place in a little wider than just what happens in the running time. Admirable, and a little more so thanks to the film having a sequel (actually, two), but as for what this film itself has, it basically doesn’t have very much; unless you like hearing people talk about sex on and on and on, as if there is virtually nothing else in the world to talk about. Honestly, my favorite part was when a guest to the group’s dinner basically calls the group out on their so-called intellectuality by stating outright that they are a drag because all they talk about is sex. I include that scene simply because it sums up my feelings on Decline better than I ever could have. I wanted to give this an extra point for being pretty well done, but the glaring con of the film’s one-note subject matter far overshadowed the film’s one pro. Make of that what you will.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10