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    Barbarian Invasions

    The death of ideals

    Denys Arcand revisits the once-young hedonists of "Decline of the American Empire" under the glare of reality 17 years later in "The Barbarian Invasions."


    French-Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand has caught the international zeitgeist of the boomer generation in his socio-political comedy "The Barbarian Invasions."

    Original title: Les Invasions Barbares.
    Written and directed by: Denys Arcand.
    Cast: Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau, Dorothée Berryman, Louise Portal, Marie-Josee Croze, Dominique Michel, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Pierre Curzi, Marina Hands, Yves Jacques, Toni Cecchinato, Mitsou Gelinas, Sylvie Drapeau, Sophie Lorain, Stéphane Rousseau.
    In French with English subtitles.
    New York Film Festival 2003
  • 21 Grams
  • The Barbarian Invasions
  • Crimson Gold
  • Dogville
  • Elephant

  • The Flower of Evil
  • The Fog of War
  • Mystic River
  • Raja
  • S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine

  • Festival site
  • In this age of simultaneous sequels (ie·"The Matrix," "Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter"), it's a relief to find a sequel that actually took 17 years to make. And what a difference a decade and a half makes!

    When we left Denys Arcand's merry band of hedonistic academics back in 1986's "Decline of the American Empire," they were très socialistes and très sexuelles. Now they're older though not necessarily any wiser and as always happens in life, the chickens have come home to roost, so to speak.

    But before we actually re-meet this lascivious bunch, one of them is taken on a wild ride through the bowels of the worst hospital (socialized, of course) imaginable. Dead bodies in the halls share gurneys side by side with live sufferers, as depleted staff members bark orders amidst a proliferation of exposed heating and cooling ducts to a degree not seen on-screen since Terry Gilliam's "Brazil."

    Barbarian Invasions  
    Rémy (Rémy Girard), last seen as an unreconstructed Marxist, is now a dying fatalist who submits to this faulty hospital system because he voted for hospital nationalization and he'll deny none of his early beliefs, political or emotional. "Was there an 'ism' we didn't worship?" asks one friend. "Cretinism," retorts Claude, a gay friend currently living in Rome with his longtime partner.

    They and the rest of Rémy's friends, family and lovers have come to say goodbye, not just to him, but to their lost youth and ideals. In typical generational fashion, Rémy's son, Sébastien (Canadian comedian Stéphane Rousseau) is a successful International financier at socio-political and emotional loggerheads with dear old dad. Au fond, it's the father-son relationship that is the core of this film.

    But this is after all a film by social satirist Arcand, so from title to closing credits, there is a sub-current of commentary on everything from the events of 9/11 (the eponymous Invasions), to the always-present Canadian envy/distrust of their more affluent South American neighbor — us.

    The ultimate irony is that only Sébastien's wealth can bring Rémy any physical comfort in his last days and with it, he rents his father an entire empty floor in the hospital and full-time private nurses plus illegal drugs to kill the pain. (Arcand is on record as favoring the legalization of heroin for dying patients.)

    Enter Nathalie (Marie-Josée Croze), the dragged-out drug-addicted daughter of one of Remy's old flames, whom Sébastien chooses as his dealer. This not only allows a mother-daughter theme to parallel the father-son angle, but also won Mlle. Croze the Best Actress award at Cannes this year.

    "Barbarian Invasions" is a far more poignant film than its predecessor, but the film manages to stay ironic almost to the end, thereby winning my award for "adult father-son rapprochement film" of the year. ("Big Fish" qualifies as its polar opposite, but that's another review.)

    Arcand has been called an actor's director — and the overall performances prove this true. But he is also the Palme D'Or winner for his loquacious screenplay — these characters reflect his own quick, political mind and they love to talk the kind of pithy political and earthily salacious talk I love to listen to.

    NOVEMBER 24, 2003

    Reader comments on Barbarian Invasions:

  • Barbarian Invasion   from Andre, Apr 17, 2004
  • Big Chill but he's still alive...   from Heather K., Sep 17, 2004

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