The Fall of the American Empire (La chute de l’empire américain) first published by EyeforFilm
In 1986, director/co-writer Denys Arcand released The Decline of the American Empire, in which an ensemble of academics discuss sex and society. Decades later, in 2003, he revisited this collective of characters – with one now terminally ill – in The Barbarian Invasions, whose principal preoccupations were healthcare and death. The title of his latest, The Fall of the American Empire, obviously marks it as forming a loose trilogy with those previous two films – and even if it focuses on a new character, Pierre-Paul Daoust (Alexandre Landry), he too is an academic, and his girlfriend ‘Aspasie’ (Maripier Morin) is, like the different Pierre’s girlfriend in the first film, a sex worker whom he meets through her personal services.
The main theme here is the morality of money, as Pierre-Paul, a sincere and somewhat naïve delivery man with a doctorate in ethics and a strong sense of social justice, chances upon two bags full of stolen cash and, in a fateful moment, decides to take them in his truck. With ruthless criminal gangs and the police circling, our hero – and we along with him – receive a quick masterclass in international banking, tax evasion and the many ways in which money can be hidden from sight.
Here Arcand is showing the iniquitous workings of the global economy, bringing advantage to the very rich at the expense of the poor. He is also posing crucial questions about whether it is possible to do the right thing with ill-gotten gains – while implying that almost all money is in some way dirty. Pierre-Paul is a good man, and his actions inspire goodness in the high-class prostitute and the convicted money launderer (Rémy Girard) with whom he surrounds himself – but we are left to wonder how many people could resist the siren call of money, and the consequences of its pursuit, in the real world as opposed to in one of Arcand’s cinematic thought experiments. So this is an exemplary film, and we would all be better off living up to its ultimately improbable standards rather than to those, say, of the (expressly name-checked) Trump.
© Anton Bitel