The Decline of the American Empire (Le Declin de L’Empire Americain)

Director: Denys Arcand
Screenwriters: Denys Arcand

Institute History

  • 1987 Sundance Film Festival


“The frenetic desire for individual happiness in our society may well be historically linked to the decline of the American empire that we are now beginning to witness.” Using this idea as a starting point, Denys Arcand mercilessly examines the mores of a group of Quebec intellectuals with salacious insight and ironic distance. At once deeply satiric, immensely amusing and yet unsettling in its vision, this film strips bare the obsessions of a group of history professors and their wives. Bored and cynical, they display an uncommon reoccupation with sex. As the men prepare a gourmet supper in a lush country house, and the women work out in a fitness club, talk turns to their sexual adventures. References to Spengler and Gibbons, Wittgenstein and Marx mingle with conversations about Masters and Johnson, Germaine Greer, and the g-spot. Affairs are recounted with with wit and pain when the two sexes are apart, but when husbands and wives meet for dinner, a new tome is imparted to the day.

Winner of the Critic’s Prize at the Cannes festival, The Decline of the American Empire is a landmark film for Canadian cinema. Boasting a superior script, wonderful ensemble playing and a keen cinematic sense, Arcand’s film is above all an intelligent rumination on where we find ourselves as a society.

— Piers Handling

Screening Details

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