BARBARIAN INVASIONS, THE
Now in his early 50s, Montreal university lecturer Remy (Remy Girard) is a divorced womaniser who loves life, even though - especially perhaps - now that he's facing death from cancer. His ex-wife, Louise (Dorothee Berryman) sends for their successful, London-based financier son Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau) whose relationship with Remy has become one based on silence. Their daughter is at sea and can't come ... They clash as soon as Sebastien arrives, but on finding his father in an underwhelming public ward, he uses his business skills - including how to buy services not otherwise available - to ensure the greatest possible comfort for his father, including the reunion of friends, past mistresses and some students. As these disparate characters gather round and talk, they evoke their passions and their fears, as Remy grows more philosophical with every moment closer to death.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Exceptional for its ability to be at once cynical and world weary yet full of the juices of a lust for life, Denys Arcand combines a sophisticated socio-political essay with characters whose friendships bounce off each other's differences. Acclaimed via festivals and awards, The Barbarian Invasions is an intelligent film, sure, but its earthiness and its absolute honesty make it also a deeply emotional one. Prepare to weep for all the right reasons.
The story outline is a mere distillation of the physical environment of this film, whereas the real power and the real interest comes from its complicated humans, who respond to their environment, their circumstances, their place in history and society with all the pain and laughter of the living. The cast is flawless, each one able to move us through their faults and their strengths. The father-son relationship is the main engine, but it's surrounded by a whole battery of emotional turbines.
Humour, whether darkly observant or skilfully witty, twines through the film like a confidently creeping ivy, growing out of the characters quite naturally. Into his melee of humanity, Arcand injects his prognosis of the decline of the American empire, an empire which views all outsiders as barbarians, and the September 11 terrorist attack as just one example of their encroachment.
With considerable anger, Arcand also paints a view of human history that is simply a series of horrors visited on one group of humans by another. This darkness is balanced with the hedonism that the characters enjoy, but the barbed wires of territorial divisions remain in place. Indeed, his most powerful point is made during a funny conversation between the entire group as they relax at a lakeside cottage, discussing the many isms, causes and chic leftist movements they all admired at one time or another. Intelligence has disappeared, and cretinism is the loathsome new state of affairs.
But then, Arcand takes us back into the warmth of the human condition with a deeply moving ending that strips away everything, leaving only the flame and pain and joy of human bondage as the final, absolute and indestructible part of being alive.
Review by Louise Keller:
A haunting and exquisite film about life and death, Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions zeroes in on all the things that make life joyous. That comes as a surprise, especially as Arcand's story centres around the cantankerous terminally ill Remy, who is trying to cope both physically and mentally with the inevitable. His is a dysfunctional family and the heart of the story is formed from the relationship between the self-proclaimed socialist and his estranged capitalist son Sebastien.
Arcand's dialogue is witty and filled with observation, as Remy and his friends reminisce about their ideals and memories stolen from their youth. There is plenty of laughter from the beginning as ex-wife meets ex-mistresses, and humour is found in the everyday exchanges and communications. 'Christmas in the scanner; Easter six foot under,' Remy muses as he undergoes medical test after test.
Performances are all superb; Remy Girard gives a vigorous insight into the gruff Remy, who admits 'living grows on you.' Stephane Rousseau's articulate and well-dressed Sebastien is the absolute converse of his father and the interaction and between all the characters rings positively true.
When we first meet Remy, he is lying in the middle of an overcrowded hospital room, devoid of privacy, in what is obviously a health care crisis. 'I voted for Medicare and am prepared for the consequences,' mutters Remy; but Sebastien quickly assesses that money speaks louder than words, and bribes his way into getting Remy a private room and even pays former students to visit his father. When Sebastien decides to relieve Remy's pain by getting him some heroin, there is an amusing scene in which he goes to the local police and asks their help. The irony of the ensuing relationship between Sebastien and the policeman is just one of the outcomes. Then he seeks out the junkie Nathalie, making a deal with her that she supplies the dying man with heroin to ease his pain. When Nathalie agrees, little does she realise that not only does she become Remy's guardian angel, but she is about to change her life forever.
Humour and pathos oscillate like a swinging pendulum. Although we know exactly where the story is heading, we can never be prepared for the final affecting goodbyes between father and son, daughter and friends. These are painfully moving scenes, beautifully portrayed with great sincerity. Death is an inevitable ending for us all, and one could ask for no more than Remy's fate - to be surrounded by love and empathy. Yes, there will be tears, but the film draws to a satisfying conclusion and we feel as though we have shared something special.
Email this article
BARBARIAN INVASIONS, THE (MA)
Invasions barbares, Les
CAST: Remy Girard, Dorothee Berryman, Stephane Rousseau, Marie-Jose Croze, Marina Hands, Johanne Marie Tremblay, Pierre Curzi, Yvas Jacques, Louise Portal, Dominique Michel, Mitsou Gelinas
PRODUCER: Daniel Louis, Denise Robert
DIRECTOR: Denys Arcand
SCRIPT: Denys Arcand
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Guy Dufaux
EDITOR: Isabelle Dedieu
MUSIC: Pierre Aviat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Francois Seguin
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hopscotch
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 8, 2004