La chute de l’empire américain is Denys Arcand’s latest film. Although Arcand brings back two characters from his film Joyeux calvaire, his 1986 film Le déclin de l’empire américain, seems totally unrelated to La chute de l’empire américain. This is not a sequel or a prequel. When we first meet Pierre-Paul Daoust (Alexandre Landry), a thirtysomething doctor of philosophy, he is breaking up with his girlfriend, Linda (Florence Longpré). What’s the point?, he seems to say. He will never amount to anything. The only job he could find is as a delivery man. He’s too competent, too intelligent, he claims, to get a job in his field. Arcand puts it all out there from the first speech. Everyone is rotten, corrupted and dishonest. You name it, Pierre-Paul is a disenchanted soul with no hope but always at the ready with quotes from French philosophers. Then as he is delivering a package, he happens to witness a botched robbery at a clothing boutique. Two people are killed, and two big bags full of cash are left on the scene. Pierre-Paul grabs them and tells the cops he saw nothing, but the two detectives in charge of the case (Maxim Roy and a bland Louis Morissette) know better. We find out that the boutique was a front for illegal activities, like money laundering. The Montréal organized crime community is involved and looking for the stolen cash. But what is Pierre-Paul going to do with all that cash? First, to have a good time, he calls high class escort Aspasie AKA Camille Lafontaine (Maripier Morin, formally a Reality TV show Occupation double contestant). To find some ways to make the millions grow (translation: tax havens) Pierre-Paul gets in touch with freshly-out-of-prison Sylvan Bigras (Rémy Girard) who specializes in money matters. Pretty soon Aspasie is also involved. Just happens that Aspasie’s former client is attorney Maître Wilbrod Taschereau (Pierre Curzi) who knows a thing or two about tax havens. So there you have it. The honest doctor of philosophy becomes just as crooked as the crooks, the prostitutes, the businessmen and the lawyers. Meanwhile in the streets of Montréal there are more and more homeless people than ever. And the police? Well, they’re just incompetent fools. Arcand lays it down pretty thick. Every thing is underlined several times, with long speeches about what country is better to “invest” your money, the government being complicit. It’s a labyrinthine plot with equally labyrinthine dialogues. But it is pleasant because of Arcand’s pacing and casting choices. He always had an easy way with dialogues. Some of his earlier films were all talk fests: Le déclin de l’empire américain, Jésus de Montréal and Les invasions barbares (Best Foreign language film Oscar winner). With Arcand, verbosity can be fun. Except for the aforementioned Morissette, I enjoyed La chute de l’empire américain mostly because of the cast. The two leads, Landry and Morin have good chemistry together. Despite having had no previous film experience, Morin is cutting and precise, exactly what the part needs. And Landry serves Arcand well as he is a very likable and attractive hero. It was so much fun to see Rémy Girard and Pierre Curzi back together again from the good old days of Le déclin de l’empire américain. Curzi is particularly effective as a cynic lawyer. The only thing left to say about Rémy Girard is that he could probably play Sylvain Bigras in his sleep. And for me it is so much fun to see and recognize actors that I’ve seen and love from Quebec TV. With only a few minutes onscreen, Geneviève Schmidt is so funny and milking every second of her screen time, that you wish she had a bigger part. Maybe soon Geneviève! And a great time was had by all.
The fall of the American empire (La chute de l’empire américain)
Patrick Emmanuel Abellard
In French with English subtitles.