The Barbarian Invasions

The Barbarian Invasions


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Decline Of The American Empire was a famous French Canadian talkie, written and directed by Denys Arcand in 1986. Critics salivated over its wit and sophistication, meaning that grown-ups could bang on about sex without sounding misogynistic or laddish because the guys were university lecturers and, therefore, in full possession of their faculties (allegedly).

Now they are back, the same cast, the same people, except it's not a homage to sexual proclivity, rather the celebration of a long dying. Going gentle into any kind of night, good or otherwise, is not a cool thing to do. This is a rant against life (for daring to pull the plug), love (for being so inconsistent) and the self (for being such a failure).

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Remy (Remy Girard) is a bad patient. He may be dying of cancer, but his libido is still demanding attention, although he can't do anything about it, and his views on the world of George W(ar) and the future of North American politics are as rumbustuous and extreme as ever. Sticking to hospital rules is something he doesn't do. Within days, he has discovered the heroin. Within a week, he's a junkie.

The cuckoos come home to roost. His ex-wife is in constant attendance. His friends, the randy academics, appear from every corner of the globe, some with partners, some without. A pair of mistresses from the adventurous years reunite with affection. His estranged son, a successful futures broker, flies in from London, with an en suite fiancee and an open chequebook. An interesting girl, called Natalie, provides the drugs. It is like a wake, with the corpse as life and soul.

What is missing is a raison d'etre. No one wants to speak of death, except Remy, who never stops. The others spoil him rotten and listen to his rambling reminiscences and diatribes against the unfairness of mortality. He has opinions on everything, but is this enough upon which to build a moving picture?

For a writer as acerbic as Arcand, The Barbarian Invasions is surprisingly sentimental. Remy has been a naughty boy all his life and now that it's coming to an end, instead of retribution, he receives oodles and boodles of mushy emotion. When you stop and ask yourself how these people can drop everything and spend weeks with their old mate/lover/father/husband, there is something amiss. You shouldn't have to ask. If it's not natural, it's poetic licence and if it's not poetry, it's nonsense.

Also, what in the name of seasoned reason is an 18-certificate doing here? Has death become the new pornography?

Reviewed on: 19 Feb 2004
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The Barbarian Invasions packshot
A dying man with a troubled past searches for peace, surrounded by ex-lovers and friends.
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Director: Denys Arcand

Writer: Denys Arcand

Starring: Remy Girard, Stephane Rousseau, Marie-Josee Croze, Marina Hands, Dorothee Berryman, Louise Portal, Dominique Michel, Yves Jacques

Year: 2003

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: Canada/France


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