THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS written and directed by Denys Arcand, produced by Denise Robert and Daniel Louis, with Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau, Dorothée Berryman and Pierre Curzi. 99 minutes. An Alliance Atlantis release. Opens Friday (November 21). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 96. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
It's easy to understand the rapturous critical response to Denys Arcand's new film, The Barbarian Invasions. Arcand won a screenplay award at Cannes, which at this year's Cannes was like being the best-looking person in a leper colony. And, yes, it's the best mainstream Canadian film this year, but this hasn't been a terribly good year. It gathers characters from Arcand's The Decline Of The American Empire (1986) 17 years later.
Rémy (Rémy Girard), the compulsive womanizer from the first film, is now in the terminal stages of cancer, and his investment banker son, Sebastian (Stéphane Rousseau), returns from Europe under emotional duress.
The Barbarian Invasions is really a father-son story. Trying to improve Rémy's situation in a crowded public hospital, Sebastian spreads a lot of money around to get him a room on an unused floor, allowing Arcand some savage comments on the current state of Quebec's healthcare system. Then he gathers his dad's old friends to cheer him up and mount a deathbed vigil.
Invasions is well made and may be Arcand's best film since Jesus Of Montreal (1989), but that doesn't mean it's as good as Jesus or Decline.
Cinematheque Ontario is currently running a retrospective of Arcand's work, including Empire (Friday, November 21, 6:30 pm) and Jesus (November 29, 8:45 pm) and such rare not-on-video pictures as Réjeanne Padovani (Saturday, November 22, 8:45 pm) and Gina (November 28, 8:45 pm) as well as his controversial documentaries Comfort And Indifference (Sunday, November 23, 2:45 pm) and On Est Au Coton (November 27, 6:30 pm), the latter banned by the NFB because of Arcand's anti-corporate approach to a textile workers' strike. (See Rep Cinemas, page 106 for details.)
As a documentarian, Arcand was a sharp-eyed political romantic. Comfort And Indifference is a film baffled by the results of Quebec's first independence referendum. The reaction of the Quebec government at the time was neither comfortable nor indifferent.
As a fiction filmmaker, he has an ear for the way people spin their lives as an act of self-esteem enhancement. Decline Of The American Empire is an epic of that type ofspin.
Here, the return of the old friends, who've apparently not seen Rémy in years , seems like an imposition on the central story. The core of the film is the estranged family, and the estranged friends are a sideshow that's not nearly as witty as Arcand thinks it is and that blunts the film's considerable insight into the tense dynamic of the father- son relationship.
Invasions is worth seeing. The Arcand retrospective at the Cinematheque is a must-see.