The Barbarian Invasions

"Excellent"

The Barbarian Invasions Review


Odd companionship makes for great human drama. Some of the finest films about relationships have, at their center, a strange pairing of souls (Kieslowski's Red and Harold and Maude immediately come to mind). French-Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand understands the curiosity from such chemistry; so, he gives us the unlikely connection between a dying intellectual and a waifish heroin addict for his thought-provoking The Barbarian Invasions. And that's just a peripheral story.

Arcand is too experienced to be satisfied with this singular friendship as a focal point. Instead, it's just one of the delicate links that the veteran writer/director examines in this tale that briskly comments on everything from healthcare to ethics to today's Christianity.

Calling upon a half-dozen actors to revive their characters from The Decline of the American Empire (1986), Arcand makes a sequel of sorts, a comedy/drama in which his history-loving academics reunite as the great philanderer in the group prepares to die. Longtime Arcand regular Rémy Girard stars as Rémy, a fiery old philosopher, and lifelong poor husband and father. His son, Sebastién (Stéphane Rousseau), gets word of his father's deteriorating health, and reluctantly leaves his high-powered finance job in London to pay dad a visit.

After some soul-searching and a couple of good shouting matches with his father, Sebastién does everything he can to make his cranky papa happy and comfortable in the hospital. In addition to collecting his old friends, he finds him a heroin buddy (the drug helps alleviate his pain) and throws loads of cash at everything that he can.

Sebastién's method of solving problems with cash is an interesting one, and Arcand presents it as a subtle conflict of thought. Rémy, an old-school thinker, finds the younger generation -- especially his son -- to be vapid, uncultured barbarians. But he certainly doesn't mind, or even acknowledge, the inroads Sebastién can make for him with his wealth.

As the story progresses, Rémy becomes more introspective about his life, his wishes, his failures. Arcand skillfully mixes the comings and goings of Rémy's visitors to develop characters, expand the dialogue and gracefully change moods. The film moves like a smooth dance, each scene flowing over the next.

The Barbarian Invasions was one of three films to be showered with praise at this year's Cannes Film Festival (the others being Elephant and the Turkish Uzak), winning awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actress (for the mournful Marie-Josee Croze as the junkie). It has nearly everything an art house audience loves about a film: refined humor; smart, sometimes intellectual dialogue; and the emotional, offbeat relationships previously mentioned. It's even in French, for God's sake.

But, besides all that, the film has seldom a stray scene, each sequence carrying pertinent meaning and high entertainment. Arcand's intelligent banter may come off as snobbish at times, but it's refreshing to hear talk about great thinkers, good books, and the dreams of men.

Additional Note: It is worth mentioning that, in the film, Denys Arcand makes disturbing use of a seldom-seen piece of video footage from the World Trade Center terrorist attacks in 2001. He seems to be making a point about the barbaric nature of man, which is discussed in the film; however, the shot seems sadly out of context.

On a recent promotional tour stop, the filmmaker explained his desire to use the footage and, as an American, I found his reasoning unsubstantial and poor. Thankfully, his bad judgment does not take away from the overall enjoyment of the film and the rating you see here is earned. However, Arcand should understand that placing such a horrific sight in a fictional film is enormously self-serving.

The DVD offers surprisingly few extras for an Academy Award winning film: Just one behind the scenes vignette.

Aka Les Invasions barbares.

Bar the doors, the barbarians are coming!



Facts and Figures

Run time: 99 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 24th September 2003

Box Office USA: $3.3M

Distributed by: Miramax

Production compaines: Canal+, Astral Films, Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC), The Harold Greenberg Fund, Société Radio-Canada, Société de Développement des Entreprises Culturelles (SODEC), Téléfilm Canada, Pyramide Productions, Cinémaginaire Inc.

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Fresh: 105 Rotten: 25

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Rémy, as Sébastien, as Louise, as Diane, as Dominique, as Pierre, as Claude, as Gaëlle, as First Lover, as Sister Constance Lazure, as Ghislaine

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