(Not much of a surprise)
Before 2003’s “The Barbarian Invasion” (a long time fave) there was “The Decline of the American Empire”, a surprisingly moving and effective examination of the myriad ways we civilized types can dance around anything to do with sex. The incidental critiques of the neighbors to the south were fun, too. And this was back in 1986.
It took some time to warm to this bunch of over-educated Québécois chatterboxes shoe-horned snugly into their gender roles and expectations. What’s more boring than a bunch of men boasting about their sexual exploits? A bunch of women doing the same. Or at least equally as boring.
And yet something unexpected happens over the course of the not quite 24 hours covered in this movie. I began to appreciate and even care about these flawed, overweening, confused people.
The uninvited Mario shows up and rudely wonders why the men spent all afternoon talking about sex when there’s no orgy. Bingo. These people talk a good game but the best sex any of them are having is not talked about. Illicit affairs and rough sex don’t make for witty dinner conversation.
The civilized veneer gets peeled back a bit in the last half hour of the film. Hurtful truths come out, illusions shattered, and rifts appear that will get papered over. By morning everyone has decided to pretend everything is fine and life goes on.
As it does.