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Barbarian Invasions
cast: Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau, Marie-Josée Croze, Dorothée Berryman, and Roy Dupus

writer and director: Denys Arcand

99 minutes (18) 2003 widescreen ratio 16:9
Artificial Eye DVD Region 2 retail
Also available to buy on video

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Thomas Cropper
"I really think we're coming to the end of an era." This is Denys Arcand's opinion of the modern world. Certainly in the post-9/11 world, with the ever-present threat of terrorism, it does seem like the stitching is coming lose about the fabric of the world and that is the theme that has prevailed through two of the director's most celebrated films.

In 1986, Arcand founded The Decline Of The American Empire on the basis that an empire falls when the importance of the 'self' supersedes the notion of the common good. Self interest, self-pleasure and self-indulgence are the contributing factors that set the lives of his major protagonists on an irreversible trail of decline and destruction. Predictably, perhaps, the film received wide critical acclaim and received the Film Critics' Award at the Cannes film festival.

Seventeen years later he was, at it again, revisiting the same characters for the Barbarian Invasions in which Rémy (Rémy Girard) is forced to face the consequences of a lifetime's self interest as he comes to terms with his own mortality. Terminally ill with cancer, Rémy faces a reunion with his wife Louise (Dorothée Berryman) and his son, Sebastien (Stéphane Rousseaux), as well as his own friends. Sebastien, in a sense, represents everything that Rémy hates - both about the world and himself. Sebastien works in finance, he has never read a book, yet he earns more in a month than his father earns in a year and society considers his a success. "The perfect husband," as one character describes him. To Rémy he is the epitome of an illiterate and brain-dead youth, yet his success serves only to heighten his own sense of failure - a lifetime as a lowly teacher at an insignificant university. Slowly the two become closer and Sebastien even goes so far as to arrange a supply of heroin to relieve his pain. Rémy's relationship with Nathalie (Marie-Josée Croze) the junkie daughter of a friend who purchases the heroin and journeys to the hospital to administer it to the patient, allows him to put his own life into context and reconcile himself with his own achievements.

Like the first film Barbarian Invasions delights in linking its overtly academic theme into the more day-to-day concerns of its main characters. While it uses the 11th September attacks to suggest that the 'Barbarians' are already knocking at the door of American power. It contrasts the weakness of the older characters with the strength of the young as represented by Sebastien and his sister who is out sailing somewhere around Australia. They are the barbarians; the illiterate, uncultivated, youth who nevertheless are making a much better fist at life than their parents.

But this film has much more to it than its predecessor. There is more depth, it reaches greater emotional height - perhaps made all the more pertinent because this is a situation which we will all have to deal with sooner or later. Somehow Arcand skilfully manipulates and controls the pace and tempo of the film interspersing moments of high emotion with moments of humour; hinting on the one hand dose of rosy sentiment before snatching it away with the other. To the cutting, satirical and sometimes cynical tone of his first film he has added a touch of finesse and tenderness, producing a film that is more mature and more moving than anything else in his catalogue. Beautifully crafted, sensitively acted and marvellously executed, it acts as perfect counterpart to the 1986 original.

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