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The Decline of the American Empire
Selected on: January 9, 2004

Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions turned out to be one of the great conversation-starters of 2003 (AO Scott of the New York Times, for example, loved it; the Voice's J Hoberman did not, and their lively disagreement is one of the highlights of this year's "Movie Club" debate at Slate). Whether you've had a chance to catch it yet or not, Arcand's Oscar-nominated 1987 film The Decline of the American Empire is prerequisite viewing. Literally. All those years ago, the same actors portrayed the same characters: four Montreal couples, eight academics in all, gather for dinner. Sound dull? It's anything but.

Chat is heady, of course, occasionally political, but mostly, it's about sex. Who's tried what with whom when? And when names are named, all hell breaks loose. As Karen Durbin wrote recently in the NYT, Decline "has some of the stylish ferocity of Restoration comedy, with the director's sharp gaze pinning his characters in place like so many colorful insects." -- David Hudson

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