-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
copyright © 2001 - 2004 VideoVista
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
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.