The Barbarian Invasions

The best way to die is in a comfortable environment surrounded by friends and family, and that is exactly what Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau, Les Dangereux) is planning for his father Remy (Remy Giraud, The Red Violin, Les Boys III). The two have never been close, and Sebastien is trying to make up for lost time. If the characters sound familiar, it is because writer/director Denys Arcand (Stardom, Poverty and Other Delights) used them first in The Decline of the American Empire. The Barbarian Invasions is the unofficial sequel, taking place fifteen years later in the lives of its characters. They are older, wiser, and in Remy's case, dying. The Barbarian Invasions was a hit at Cannes, winning Best Actress (for Marie-Josee Croze), Best Screenplay, and a nomination for the Palm D'Or (Best Film).

Remy's ex-wife Louise (Dorothee Berryman, Ladies Room, Ice Cream, Chocolate, and Other Consolations) prods Sebastien to gather Remy's remarkably enlightened friends together to spend time reminiscing and verbally sparring about history, philosophy, and a little bit of everything else. Friends, students, and even ex-mistresses gather to eat, drink and be merry. The Barbarian Invasions is one of those extended talky movies where not much happens. At its heart, it is a movie about a son trying to connect with his father. Sebastien works in finance and is a millionaire. He shows his care for his father by trying to ensure that his father is comfortable. He bribes the hospital and union to let his father stay on an empty floor, where nobody can bother him. He tries to get the best possible care for Remy, which means going to the United States, but Remy refuses. The only thing that Sebastien can do is buy heroin for Remy to alleviate his pain.

To do this, he enlists the help of Nathalie (Croze, Ararat, Battlefield Earth), the daughter of one of Remy's ex-mistresses. She is a junkie, and is able to score heroin for Remy, and they two shoot up together. Needless to say, Remy's spirits improve immeasurably, and he is able to spend more time in his own personal This Is Your Life. Arcand makes this a film about people, and does this by ensuring that the characters in his film have distinct personalities. They act and sound like real people, unlike characters in most other movies. Everybody genuinely cares for the welfare of Remy, even Nathalie, who is just beginning to know him.

It is nice watching these people interact with each other. Yet, as real as they are, the emotions they are emitting feel fake. Especially as the movie moves on, and Remy's condition worsens. It feels like Arcand is manipulating the audience to feel sorrow at Remy's impending death yet joy that he is so happy. Arcand is not quite able to make this happen. Croze ends up stealing the show with her portrayal. She tells Sebastien never to trust a junkie because they will inevitably let people down, and one gets the feeling she is not trying to be glib. Nathalie is fatalistic in her attitude towards life, spiraling away towards death yet never acknowledging it. She is helping Remy because she does learn to care for him, and because she can get free drugs in the process. Croze slowly becomes the driving force behind The Barbarian Invasions, so who knows, maybe Arcand will make another movie about her character in fifteen years.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 52 minutes, French and English with English subtitles, Rated R for language, sexual dialogue, and drug content.

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