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BARBARIAN INVASIONS, THE (Invasions barbares, Les) (director/writer: Denys Arcand; cinematographer: Guy Dufaux; editor: Isabelle Dedieu; music: Pierre Aviat; cast: Rémy Girard (Rémy), Stéphane Rousseau (Sébastien), Dorothée Berryman (Louise), Louise Portal (Diane), Dominique Michel (Dominique), Yves Jacques (Claude), Marie-Josée Croze (Nathalie), Marina Hands (Gaëlle), Johanne Marie Tremblay (Sister Constance), Pierre Curzi (Pierre), Isabelle Blais (Sylvane); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Daniel Louis/Denise Robert; Miramax; 2003-Canada/France)
I think before this filmmaker casts his barbarian stones, he should look at himself.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Canadian director-screenwriter Denys Arcand (“Jesus of Montreal”/”The Decline of The American Empire”) creates a playful comedy-drama that is character driven and laced with recent liberal historical references and critiques of Canadian bureaucracy. The social satire is better at delivering its message about the flaws of the Canadian socialist health-care system and the dumbing-down of modern civilization then it is as an effective drama. It builds its tale around the generational conflict between the sensual socialist intellectual father and the rebellious puritanical capitalist son. The film’s main theme centers around an egotistical dying man who despondently thinks his life might be a failure, but now has the opportunity to take a new look at his life and his family. Arcand titled his film The Barbarian Invasions, which is a reference in part to a television analyst’s comments about the events of September 11, 2001. But the reference also refers to a world under attack from all directions – by wars, epidemics, drugs, violence and the everyday assaults on the senses – a world Arcand implores can only be lived in sanely through humor, tolerance, education, friendship and love. There’s no argument there.

The Barbarian Invasions can be seen as a sequel from 17 years before—to Mr. Arcand’s popular The Decline of the American Empire (1986). With much of the same cast back from the earlier film playing the same Big Chill type of French-Canadian liberal intellectuals and sensualists, but who are now older and less sure they know everything but are still the same assholes glad to be waxing in nostalgia with their bellies full. They chatter giddily about their days as existentialists and Marxists-Leninists and deconstructionists and whatever the latest leftist rage is, as these well-to-do intellectuals are still convinced they are the elitists while self-congratulating themselves for their wishy-washy humanity. It was something to watch them take their bows for being such wonderful people and hear their smutty juvenile conversations about blowjobs, as they must have had a brain drain to forget that most ruined the lives of their children or gave them a bad childhood.

This populist work garnered two undeserved awards at the Cannes Film Festival of 2003 — Arcand for Best Screenplay and Marie-Josée Croze for Best Actress.

London-based millionaire international financier Sébastien (Stéphane Rousseau) receives an urgent call from his divorced mom Louise (Dorothée Berryman) that his libertine fiftysomething history professor father Rémy (Rémy Girard) is dying from terminal cancer. Relations have been strained not only between his caring mom and his skirt-chasing father, but also between father and son. Nevertheless Sébastien flies immediately to Montreal with his live-in art auctioneer yuppie ‘dream girl’ fiancee Gaëlle (Marina Hands). The straight-laced Sébastien also emails his longtime unseen sister Sylvane, who has lived in Australia for years, to tell her the news. But she can’t make it because she’s on a sea voyage in her yacht. Instead she sends heart-felt good wishes via video email messages to dad on Sébastien’s laptop, which makes dad well-up with soap opera-like tears.

Father and son’s first meeting is a bust, as the bald and puffy stubborn old-timer resists his athletically built son’s efforts to get him into a luxury hospital in the States. He boldly says I voted for Medicare and I’ll live by it. The hospital is a mess, as the machines are inadequate and it is so overcrowded there are patients sleeping in the hall. This doesn’t make sense to Sébastien since the floor below is empty. After mom gives him a pep talk that dad really cared for him and always made sure he would do well, the wheeler-dealer is shamed into action as he precedes to show that money talks. He quickly accesses the situation and muses since dad won’t take his generous offer for proper treatment, he’ll instead make his stay here as pleasant as possible. Sébastien bribes the babbling administrator to move his father to an empty room in the floor below and discovers the union really runs things, so he bribes them also to make sure he gets a private suite. Realizing no friends showed, the son contacts them and they come from all over the world to be with one of their own kind. Dad’s indifferent college students don’t visit, so the son bribes some of them with money to visit and say nice things. Pained to see his dad suffering needlessly, he learns heroin can ease the pain. Learning that one of his father’s old mistresses Diane has a daughter named Nathalie (Marie-Josée Croze) with drug connections, he convinces the attractive but troubled proofreader to buy the dope and administer it to his dad. When she tells him she’s a junkie and shouldn’t be trusted, he convincingly lets on that he trusts her.

All this tearjerker sentimentality leads to an assisted death scene in a lakeside cabin where family and friends gather to say goodbye to the lovable rascal. If that wasn’t enough of a phony heart-tugging scene, then the strained father and son relationship is resolved by a long embrace on dad’s deathbed. With dad gushing at what a wonderful son he has, the film couldn’t have gotten more down to the level of Love Story mawkishness.

If all this fake intellectualism that checkers the endless banal conversations among friends weren’t so shallow and all the many big themes attempted weren’t answered in such a half-assed sitcom way, this would still be a lousy film because the acting was terrible. These smug characters never for one second gained any sympathy from me, whether capitalist or leftist intellectual or hospital staff member. Even the kind-hearted Sister Constance on the hospital staff seemed unreal, especially when she’s so easily talked into administrating heroin to Rémy in an emergency situation. I think before this filmmaker casts his barbarian stones, he should look at himself.

REVIEWED ON 12/30/2003 GRADE: C –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”