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Movie Overview: “The Fall of the American Empire” – Company Cant versus Socialist Kant

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By Erica Abeel

For all its chew, Fall is oddly endearing, too, leavening its harsh portrait of money-madness with aw-shucks moments of solidarity and kindness.

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The Fall of the American Empire, directed by Denys Arcand. Screening at Kendall Sq. Cinema beginning June 14.

Alexandre Landry and Maripier Morin in a scene from “The Fall of the American Empire.”

Denys Arcand’s The Fall of the American Empire is a vastly entertaining mash-up of crime caper and Ealing Studios comedy, pushed by a mordant critique of the evils of 21st century capitalism. As a bonus, the movie additionally gives these in want of it an in depth tutorial on how one can transfer a billion or so {dollars} around the globe by means of shell corporations and “foundations” — the higher to dodge detection and the tax man.  The inspiration “Save the Youngsters” is all the time wager.

As Arcand would have it, the “ethical rot” of the American Empire, infected by the omnipotence of cash, has steadily crept up, like poisonous sludge, to contaminate its neighbor to the North.  The Canadian auteur is a constitution member of that subset of filmmakers powered by passionate political opinions — significantly anger over financial inequality  (Others working this vein embody Ken Loach, Ruben Ostlund, Aki Kaurismaki, the Dardenne brothers — and Bong Joon Ho, awarded this yr’s Palme d’Or in Cannes for The Parasite.  Alas, American filmmakers typically abstain from such themes, maybe fearful that political critique will spell dying on the multiplex.)

Cash — an excessive amount of or not sufficient — is all the time entrance and heart in Fall.  Boyish, thirty-something Pierre-Paul (Alexandre Landry) has a Ph.D in philosophy, however works as a supply man as a result of “it pays higher than instructing.” He’s nonetheless mired in pupil loans.  The tortured mental assures his girlfriend, a mournful financial institution teller, that it’s “the silly [who] are wealthy” and intelligence is a handicap in a world that rewards the corrupt and people who have deserted any sense of morality or solidarity.  When his lady pal wonders why he’s by no means stated he loves her, he counters with a quote from Wittgenstein — a daily gambit of this dude, whose by no means learn a thinker he couldn’t quote.  What seems to be a breakup scene cleverly winks at its slicker model in Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Community.

At some point, whereas delivering a package deal, Pierre-Paul will get caught in a maintain up gone terribly flawed: two are useless after a bloody shoot-out. Two duffel baggage containing tens of millions lie deserted on the bottom.  Our protagonist’s dilemma: go away empty handed or the loot and run?  To his personal disbelief, our hero chooses the latter — for causes he solely begins to unpack many scenes later.  In the meantime, phrase reaches competing gangs in regards to the money at massive; Pierre-Paul finds himself entangled with the vicious prison underworld of Montreal.  He should additionally outwit two goofily earnest cops — Louis Morissette and Maxim Roy — who all the time arrive seconds late.  The primary cop has his personal backstory: he aspired to a Ph.D from Princeton however, missing the funds, has ended up coping with pimps and psychos, “the dregs of humanity.”

Although he first comes off as a doofus, P.-P grows into an endearing determine who offers cash to panhandlers and the various homeless mendacity within the streets of Arcand’s Montreal. He works in a soup kitchen.  The large stash he’s acquired now presents an unimagined dilemma: how one can transfer round all that scorching cash?  Why, by hiring an ex-con as “monetary advisor,” in fact!  That may be the infamous Sylvain Bigras (Arcand common Remy Girard).  As luck would have it, the grungy, pony-tailed prison has simply been launched from jail.  (Earlier, he’s seen taking an economics course on the college, exploring “fiscal optimization” — aka tax avoidance.)  Bigras indicators on as advisor to naive P.-P, however with the caveat that this time round he’s going to play it straight — that’s, by aping the company bigwigs who bob and weave simply exterior the attain of pesky legal guidelines.

However first issues first: after all of the stress, P.-P, in want of slightly sensual launch, contacts a hooker he’s discovered on-line.  He fancies her as a result of her title is Aspasie (beautiful Maripier Morin) and she or he shares his love of the 17th century dramas of Racine.  At each flip, Arcand mines comedian riches from the conflict of violent thugs and intellectuals who revere their French classics and counter all the company cant with quotes from Kant.  The Categorical Crucial anybody?  Marcus Aurelius and Epicurus get an airing right here, too.

P.-P instantly clicks with Aspasie — her nom de travail is borrowed from “historical past’s first nice whore,” she says proudly (look it up; it’s true).  As the most costly escort in Montreal, she’s accustomed to excessive residing, however the true aphrodisiac, the movie insists, is their shared altruism. The 2 grow to be an unlikely group, coached by prison mastermind Bigras, to redistribute the cash, Robin-hood-style, again to those that want it most.  The movie stumbles solely when the mayhem goes off the rails; there’s a violent torture scene that serves no narrative operate and must be lower.

In essentially the most scrumptious set piece, Aspasie connects P.-P with a gent named Taschereau (Pierre Curzi, and he nearly walks off with the movie) who can advise them on monetary planning.  Protected by his minions in his company tower, smoother than walnut oil and impeccably tailor-made, Taschereau is a extremely revered and scruple-free wheeler-dealer, deft at transferring cash from the Seychelles to London after which to (home-free) Switzerland.  There isn’t an African dictator, he observes, who doesn’t personal main actual property in Montreal.  Ex-con Bigras, who has studied him in finance class, bows to a grasp.

Landry because the hero is just too one-note — he primarily wears an expression of disbelief/dismay, as if he simply sat on a scorching range.  And at moments The Fall of the American Empire to blatant about being a socialist broadside posing as against the law caper.  However the ironies and darkish humor — these euphemisms for company skulduggery! — are priceless.  Arcand gracefully slips in information: a man from the soup kitchen has misplaced his job choosing apples as a result of “Mexican staff will do it for hunger wages at longer hours.”  How can a movie this critical be this amusing? I gained’t give away the ultimate droll twist involving Taschereau and the best way he falls afoul of the legislation, nor the LOL destiny of the 2 blundering cops.  For all its chew, Fall is oddly endearing, too, leavening its harsh portrait of money-madness with aw-shucks moments of solidarity and kindness.

Erica Abeel is a novelist, movie and cultural critic, and former professor at CUNY. Her current novel Wild Ladies, about three ladies rebels of the 50s, was an Oprah Journal decide. Her journalism has appeared within the New York Instances, Indiewire, and different main websites and nationwide publications. A former dancer, when not writing, she’s in a Pilates class or on the barre.

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