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I have never been a fan of Canadian cinema because it was generally soaked
with the sort of contrived politically correct sexual and social attitudes
of which the conformist majority was already a proponent. Thus, Canadian
films tended to be "pop-Canadian-culture" films about political
Of course there were exceptions: Atom Egoyan's "Exotica" or "The Sweet Hereafter," or some of Cronenberg's more experimental films like "Naked Lunch" possessed some of that existential starkness that attracted me to those films. Nonetheless my expectations generally remained low, which is why Denys Arcand's great "Barbarian Invasions" was such a pleasant surprise.
The film is about three things: the disillusionment with socialism, the growing disillusionment with capitalism, and the death of a man who happened to have been a socialist professor in Montreal, while his son a millionaire.
Remy is dying of cancer. He is dying in a Montreal hospital, which in a five minute scene is established as the horror of socialist Canadian health care. Remy's ex-wife calls upon his estranged, well-off son, Sebastien to come visit and take care of his dying father. What follows is both a comic and a touching critique of the achievements of socialism. The film also suggests that the increasingly nihilist capitalism, or money, seems to be the only way to get around in this world. Money gets Remy out of an overcrowded ward, it gets him the most accurate medical tests and the "painkillers" he needs to survive.
But "Barbarian Invasions" is critical of both systems: there is a beautiful scene where an auctioneer visits an old Montreal priest who takes her to the basement where he apparently has statuettes and chalices he wants to sell. The girl examines them and tells him that they would be of more value to the people at the church than on the world market. The priest remarks starkly: "In other words, they are worthless." Capitalism, consequently, is as anti-spiritual as socialism was.
However, there are far more levels to "Barbarian Invasions" than mere politics. In fact, the film's goal is really to scream "Politics Aside!" so that we can make room for the man who is dying. Because Remy is not a quiet, subdued man. He is a lusty man a la Sabbath from Roth's "Sabbath's Theater" who loves life, women, wine and radical socialism. But now, that all those things are distant from him, he is forced to question his life, his relationships with his friends and his estranged children.
What follows is a profound and touching elegy to the stupidities of youth, the mistakes in life, the regret and acceptance of old age - in other words of humanity. In the end, though Remy may be disillusioned with socialism, and definitely not all-too-happy with capitalism, facing death somehow robs politics of their significance. Not to say that politics aren't significant in life, because they pervade everything we do and see and so on, but bare, unadulterated life shines through for Remy. In the end, "Barbarian Invasions" is about death, and dying with dignity and how that dignity is achieved. While neither capitalism nor socialism offer it, it can be found at a more basic, human level.
It's ironic, as a side-note, that this film came out roughly at the same time as Bertolucci's "The Dreamers," which is essentially a contemplation on the idealism and romanticism of French socialism and the "free love" culture of the 60s. I found Bertolucci's film much less profound than his greater ones - it used an affair between two siblings and an American closed off in an apartment for several days as a metaphor for the sixties. It ended rather tragically, but unrealistically - it tried to convince us that people got out from their cloistered "apartments" (read mentalities) and went to the streets to protest. What "Barbarian Invasions" tells us is that the protesters on the street were still really in that apartment, cloistered from reality.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
There are many invading barbarians in this film. The reference to 9/11
is made explicit. Another example are the cancer cells that are
destroying Remy's body. But there are many other more subtle examples.
The general metaphor is this; we develop tidy definitions of who we are
and who we are not. Life then deals us changes. Change is experienced
as a violation(invasion) and the source of change feels foreign and
evil(barbarians).How we are ultimately changed by these invasions
defines who we are.
Each character in the movie faces such an invasion. First and foremost is Remy. At the beginning of the movie he faces the worst of possible situations. He is terminally ill, has wasted a promising life, is alone and buried in the horrors of the Canadian health care system. He is then invaded by a legion of most of the important people from his life. By the end of the movie he is able to die peacefully, in a place of natural beauty, with the people he cares most about, at the time of his choosing, having achieved closure around everything which is capable of being closed. The final scene at the lake is one of the most extraordinary sequences that I've witnessed on film.
But who are the the invaders and who is being invaded? By the end of the film we realized that this movie is as much about Sebastian and Nathalie, Remy's two unlikely guardian angels, who have been changed as deeply by the experience as Remy was.
I come from Quebec and just wanted to clarify some things.
- I cannot believe some people can give a rating below 5 for this movie. Were you looking for a Vin Diesel movie? This is a movie about real life, about human relationships. Its purpose is not entertainment, but reflexion. This is when a movie is considered art.
- Quebecers are not French. I'm speaking for myself but my ancestor came here in Quebec in the 17th century from France. We do speak french, though (more than 7 million of us). Are Americans British?
- The Chinese "woman" named before the movie is Arcand's adopted daughter.
- Yes the health care is that bad here. But then again where is it perfect? The population is growing old, hospitals are overcrowded, our government spends most of our tax money for it and its still not enough. But at least we don't have to pay for health care. I'm happy to pay taxes that help elders and sick people get treated.
I didn't think this is a masterpiece, but it's the kind of movie that stays in your mind for a couple of days and makes you think about where we were 40 years ago, where we are now and where we are going in the future. This is certainly one of Arcand's best movies with Jesus of Montreal and Le declin... He is an actor director and it shows. He deserved that Oscar if not for this movie for one of those 3 movies.
I rented this movie last weekend. Not having heard anything about it, I
was prepared for a middling effort and some mild entertainment.
I have to say that I was happily surprised by the quality of this film. It is a very moving piece. It touched upon so many facets of every day life - love, death, sex, fidelity, family, ambition, religion, loyalty, forgiveness, and redemption. It was handled in an understated way that allows the audience to think about the themes introduced without hitting them over the head with a message. The cast was really terrific, too. I would definitely recommend this for an indie-foreign film aficionado.
I recently watched this film and was very impressed. The screenplay,
acting and directing were all top-notch. It was at times funny, sad,
tragic and thought-provoking. It touches on everything from drug-use,
Canadian medicare, the child-father relationship and of course, past
intimate relationships- not all they were cracked up to be! Denys
Arcand is so very astute on all these fronts and wrote a fantastic
screenplay for the wonderful cast of characters.
It has to be one of my all-time favourite DVD's of 2004.
I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see a riveting, quality film made in Canada. It deserved the Oscar!
In Montreal, Rémy (Remy Girard) is an atheistic professor of history and
lover of women, who has a terminal disease. His wife calls their son,
Sébastien (Stéphane Rousseau) to come from London, where he works as a
successful investor. Sébastien arrives in Montreal with his mate, and using
his money and corruption, he improves the condition of his father in a
public Canadian hospital. He gathers his father's friends around him, and
they stay together until the death of Rémy. This low budget movie is a
touching story about friendship and farewell to life, alternating drama with
acid dialogs about religion, history, life, political system, literature and
many other themes. The cast has a great performance, flowing the story in a
very natural way. At least twice, the characters say that they are not in
the Third World, and I certainly agree with that. But I was really surprised
and impressed with the way subjects like corruption, Canadian public heath
system, labor union, ministerial of exterior, bureaucracy, police, drug
dealers etc. are presented in this film. If what this movie shows is
reality, then they are in the right way to join the club... My vote is
Title (Brazil): ` As Invasões Bárbaras' (`The Barbarians Invasion')
"Wonderful" is the only word I can think of to describe this movie. Denys
Arcand skewers the Quebec Provincial Government, the Federal Government,
Socialized Medicine, Labour Unions, and just about everything else, but
gently and wittily. (Rather more funny since there are a lot of Canadian tax
dollars financing this effort). The aging and dying student radicals of
forty years ago gather to give it all one last heave-ho and the dialogue (so
much better than the sub-tiles can convey) is smart and witty and sad. They
poke wistful fun at their younger selves while fearing the end as it comes
for them and for us all. Love is thick on the ground as is self-loathing and
anger and lust. These are rich, educated, privileged people who are still
not all that far removed from their student days, at least in their own
minds. They are something that many people may have trouble comprehending:
It isn't necessary to have seen Arcand's previous work with these characters,( `The Decline of the American Empire') to appreciate this movie, but then, why would anyone deny themselves that pleasure?
I read a lot of comments about the performance of the son in the movie,
it's even more impressive when you know that the guy who played the son
(Stephane Rousseau) is a stand up comic, whose only previous experience
as an actor was in very bad, low budget comedy (Les dangereux).
I also read a lot of comments, from people from other countries, wondering if the Canadian health care is that bad? Well I'm from Quebec and if I had seen this movie last year I would have thought that it was a bit exaggerated but I saw it last night, after I had to go to the emergency last June for heart problems and when I saw the scenes in the hospital's corridor, I just relived what I experienced back then. I spent 4 days parked in a corridor, trying to sleep with lights on 24 hours a day, people working, circulating and nurses or doctors examining me in front of everybody. Believe me it's that bad!!
By the way it's a great movie, subtitles doesn't do it justice.
There seems to be a lot of passion over the claim that the film is
anti-American, anti-capitalist, etc. Many criticisms seem to dismiss
the humanistic elements in this film - pain, death, reconciliation -
because it has a vague intellectual, leftist, socialist face. My
experiences in Canada tend to suggest that the Canadians have plenty of
targets down south that deserve criticism. But does it matter? Whether
the film included all these elements, the key theme was the preparation
for death and reconciliation between those who will not see each other
Doesn't anybody cry over loss? Are we scared of those things after death? or do we fear the process of dying - the loss of the person, their presence? A person died in this film - right before us - 100 minutes of decline -and what a sigh of relief that there was reconciliation in the end! That there was time to speak, time to be present. Consider the contrast between the daughter on the yacht - stranded, distant - and the son near his father. The great pain that welled up in me to see that there was no opportunity for her left.
I don't cry in films, but I did here. I feared dying more than ever - other people's deaths, and mine - and I resolved to prepare for it.
After reading all the comments I will not comment on the directors career
or the failure of the Canadian health sytem. Instead I would like to point
out that US viewers probably didn't enjoy the film as much since they don't
have a failing health system, communists, many unions or as big a number of
left leaning professors as other countries.
The film is a lot about this generation that went through the sexual revolution and their quirky (to us) leftist ideals and a greatly intelectualized generation. My parents generation and the one before it are full of "characters" just like Remy the dying father of the film. Most of them still hold on to their principles and ideals just like Remy.
The film contrasts the different generations, the apathetic junkie to the dying professor, the warm blooded and lusty veterans to the son's cold and practical fiancee. The anguish of loss vs commemorating a life well lived. Parents that feel they weren't present enough and a Son that barely knew his father.
I heartily recommend this film... 9/10
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