"The Barbarian Invasions"
Director: Denys Arcand


Patricia Ducey

For ‘60s lore, see instead Denys Arcand’s The Barbarian Invasions, deservedly garnering this year’s Best Foreign Film award, among many others. Invasions is another reminiscence based on boomer vanities, but one from the vantage point of a Theo or Matthew some thirty years later. It is a wise and mordantly funny film about mortality, a morally ambiguous -– or perhaps “forgiving” is a better word -– meditation on the human condition.

Lead character Rémy (Rémy Girard) lies in a Quebec hospital losing a battle with his own merciless invader, brain cancer, but he is not going gently into the good night. He sputters angrily against his children, politics, and humanity in general, to the consternation of his exasperated ex-wife and only visitor. An unapologetic “sensualist socialist” intellectual, he wails in despair that his son has never even read a book while his daughter wanders the globe delivering luxury yachts to the privileged class he despises. He and his ex argue over his long career of bedding coeds and blame each other for their fractured family. Finally, she calls son Sébastien (Stéphane Rousseau), a wealthy investment banker in London, and implores him to return home and help. Sébastien, although estranged and resentful at the domestic chaos resulting from his father’s lifestyle, finally agrees. He is shocked by his father’s predicament in an overcrowded, mismanaged hospital –- not one doctor ever calls Rémy by his correct name -– and quickly arranges for treatment in the US with a doctor friend who’s emigrated there. But Rémy refuses to go; he voted for the system and he’s going to stick with it! His son, ever the pragmatist, then embarks on a clandestine campaign crafted to provide comfort to his father in his last days while leaving him his dignity. He needs heroin for his father’s intractable and untreated pain, so he goes to the narcotics police to find out how to score. Who would know better? He then bribes the hospital administrator to open up an empty floor for a private room, the union boss to remodel and furnish it, locates and ferries in old girlfriends and fellow professors to cheer up his father and even pays a few of Rémy’s uncaring students to stop by the hospital and say how much they appreciated his lectures.

He scores the heroin with the assistance of junkie Nathalie, whom he knew as a child, the daughter of one of Rémy’s old mistresses. Sébastien provides Nathalie with money enough for her supply, and she provides heroin to Rémy in return. They get high together and unburden themselves to each other with their own lost dreams and fears of a gloomy future. Rémy frets that he needs more time; he has accomplished nothing except a few published articles. She asks him whether he really is in love with life or with a life that no longer exists. In other words, every character has his illusions; Rémy and the litany of “isms” that defined his life, Stéphane and his cool, defiant capitalism, and Rémy’s old friends who laugh at their own crazy lives because otherwise they might cry.

Rémy has spent a life railing against what he terms the “history of horrors” that is mankind, but as he fades he finally admits to Nathalie that he wants more, please: “It’s paradoxical – but living grows on you.” Arcand does not point a finger at anyone or any side and seems to be saying that we all need each other -- Rémy the idealist needs Sébastien the pragmatist and vice versa -- to temper the excesses and foibles of each. Arcand concludes that life is, after all is said and done, a mystery with the same dark ending, sweetened only by the affection of our fellow humans.

-- Patricia Ducey

Copyright Web del Sol, 2004

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