Behind the ironically sweeping title of Denys Arcand’s film is a mordant small-scale study of private lives and sexual mores among a group of contemporary Canadian academics. Writer-director Arcand deploys a smart script, fluent technique and a first-rate cast for this deviously sardonic comedy of carnal manners.
Arcand gives his story a theatrical cast, with a distinct two-act structure, two principal settings (a modern gym complex and a lakeside chalet cloaked in snow) and its eight principal characters – four men and four women – at first presented like two separate sexual choruses.
They are to gather that evening at the chalet for a casual, friendly dinner. However, it is the menfolk who are in the kitchen while the ladies work out in the gym, with each group engaging in supposedly frank and liberated exchanges of jocular sex talk and reminiscences. But the day’s mood of levity and well-being disintegrates around the dinner table.
The smooth ensemble acting throws into trenchant relief the shallowness and hypocrisy of their attitudes. Pierre (Pierre Curzi), a divorcee who clings to his freedom despite his relationship with the much younger Danielle (Genevieve Roux), who pays for her studies with a job in a sexual massage parlor, where the two met; Diane (Louise Portal), a faculty member who is engaged in a kinky affair with a sinister hippie lover (Gabriel Arcand); Claude (Yves Jacques), homosexual prof; and Alan (Daniel Briere), a young faculty assistant who finds himself seduced by Dominique.