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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Amusing in a French Way
by James Colt Harrison

French Canadian director Denys Arcand is a man who does everything on his films: he writes, directs, and tells everybody what to do and where to do it. He has achieved international success, including the Best Foreign Film Academy Award ® for The Barbarian Invasions (2004) and an Oscar® nomination for the Best Original Screenplay on that film. Two of his other films have won nominations as Best Foreign Film: The Decline of the American Empire (1986) and Jesus of Montreal (1989). The French Government was only too happy to award him the prestigious Legion of Honour as well as a Commander of L’Ordre  des Arts et des Lettres. Even if you don’t speak French, you have to be impressed and say “Oui, oui!”

The Fall of the American Empire, Arcand’s latest film, is pulled right from the headlines in Canada. Based on a true story of a gang-related robbery, Arcand used his own imagination to flesh out the narrative as he imagined what may have happened.

Straight-laced delivery truck driver Pierre-Paul (the handsome and shy actor Alexandre Landry) is poor as dirt and insecure. He has a degree in philosophy and quotes every intellectual who has ever lived every two minutes to his bored girlfriend Linda (Florence Longpre), an equally dull bank clerk. He has no faith in himself and sees their romance going nowhere. They mutually agree to split.

Pierre-Paul happens to be a staunch socialist, an intellect, and yet underemployed in a dead-end job. He begins the movie as a loser, and the viewer wonders why should we care about him? His looks will please fans as he is a strapping young man with lots of nice hair, and is tall without using lifts in his Nike’s. A looming delicacy and catnip you say? What lies ahead?

Inadvertently, Pierre-Paul stumbles across a robbery while delivering his goods. During a violent shootout, the perpetrators are killed and the bags of money are dropped on the ground within feet of Pierre-Paul’s delivery truck. Quelle dilemma! Shall he run away? Shall he report it to the police? His scruples fly away as fast as the bullets that spewed out of the crook’s guns. Of course, he is tempted and probably thinks he can use the money to move out of his dreary apartment and get one with a view of Montreal’s harbor. The real conundrum is that Quebec is surrounded by water on all sides. Best to choose a place by the old docks where there is a better class of hotels and dwellings.

Pierre-Paul’s life is about to change when he meets Aspasie, a beautiful young woman completely out of his league. Played by gorgeous Maripier Morin, she wears skirts so minuscule that the fabrics stops short before her legs reach the hemline. She’s expensive, but he has bags of money to pay for her. She’s high-class, only does business with rich men. Although basically ruthless when it comes to business, Aspasie gets soft in the head about Pierre-Paul because he is so unsure of himself and inexperienced. She becomes, naturally, a gal with a heart of gold. She does, however, retain her driver/bodyguard at all time just outside the door. Duc Thuy (played menacingly by Anoulith Sintharaphone) looks like a young, slim version of Oddjob (Harold Sakata) in the James Bond 1964 film Goldfinger.

At this point, the plot becomes extremely complicated but bizarre, and often times amusing in a French way. The gang who owns the money is looking and lactating about killing the culprit who stole the money. Naturally, Aspasie and Paul-Pierre hook up with an ex-con (a wonderful Remy Girard) who specializes in laundering money. They devise a scheme to get away with all the cash. But do they? And what do they do to make their guilt feel a little less oppressive?

In the end, we see that Aspasie really does have a heart of gold, but how does she use it? You’ll be surprised and amused.

(Released by Sony Pictures Classics and rated "R" by MPAA.)

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