From the opening shot, an endless, unmotivated dolly move up a corridor that conveys no information, establishes neither theme nor setting and serves no other purpose, you know that you are in the presence of true film ineptitude, which only deepens as The Decline of the American Empire continues.
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The Decline of the American Empire is certainly the year's most intellectual work, a frequently funny, unrepressed meditation on midnight in North America. It's the kind of warning you'd expect from a middle-aged, over-educated male, going soft 'round the middle and figuring the world is too.
The movie is wise, deep, and painful, and it is filled with words. Used to be, a "sex film" contained lots of nudity and steamy scenes. That kind of stuff would just slow this one down.
With nothing at stake dramatically, much less cinematically, Arcand leans heavily on brow-raising repartee to carry the load, but his naked contempt throws a wet blanket over all the frank sexual anecdotes and observations.
Mr. Arcand's dialogue is not didactic. It's spontaneously funny and rueful and full of oblique revelations. Though highly intelligent, his characters are prone to self-delusion. They're nothing if not civilized, but they don't hesitate to lie and cheat in their own interests.