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Les Invasions Barbares

The Barbarian Invasions

Director:

Denys Arcand

Screenplay

Denys Arcand

Producers

Denise Robert, Louis Daniel, Vonier Fabienne

Budget

10 M

Locations

Montreal, Canada

Language

French

Cast

Rémy Girard (Rémy); Stéphane Rousseau (Sébastien); Marie-Josée Croze (Nathalie); Roy Dupuis (Detective)

Distributor

Alliance Atlantis Vivafilm

Genre

Drama

Duration

99 minutes – (112 the DVD version)

Release Date

May 9th, 2003

 

 

29th October 2003. The Barbarian Invasions was the Centrepiece Gala performance at the 47th London Film Festival. Present were director Denys Arcand, producer Denise Robert and cast member Yves Jacques (Claude, and previously the notary Le Potiron in Séraphin).

 

Denys Arcand is one of Quebec’s most prestigious directors following his two consecutive international successes in the late eighties, The Decline of the American Empire and Jesus of Montreal. While I loved the latter even Before Roy, I have never understood the acclaim (a host of Genies, film festival ‘best’s and even an Oscar nomination) accorded to the former. Decline is a one-note film – sex and sexual infidelity (for the most part discussing it rather than doing it) is the sole theme. University lecturer Rémy (Rémy Girard) and his male buddies talk about their sexual histories while preparing a meal. The women are at the gym discussing their sex lives. Later the two parties meet to eat the meal and talk about sex. Finally it’s revealed to Remy’s oblivious wife that he has been unfaithful to her throughout their marriage, including sleeping with the other women present. It’s distasteful, it’s callous, and worst of all, it’s monotonous.

 

The Barbarian Invasions reunites the same group around Remy’s deathbed. From the publicity we know it’s about terminal cancer and euthanasia. From accounts of its reception on release we hear there are ‘laughter and tears’. From experience we approach the film with trepidation – will it follow the same formula but be depressing as well as tedious? Will it go too far and be over-sentimental and maudlin?

 

As it happens, The Barbarian Invasions surpasses itself. Where Decline has all the nuances of a foghorn, Invasions is a veritable symphony. While Decline seems as though it has been written as a three act play, Invasions lends itself to the medium of film – this time we have a proper plot, lots of location shifts, changes of pace, a host of peripheral characters to add variety. It also deals with many diverse issues (sexual infidelity being only one of them), allowing the viewer a choice of moral dilemmas to explore. It’s genuinely funny throughout, and far from being over-sentimental, Rémy’s end comes so quickly and in such circumstances that, personally speaking, the tears didn’t have time to form.

 

Rémy’s estranged but successful stockbroker son Sébastien has been called to his father’s hospital bedside where he finds the public amenities sorely lacking (echoes of Jesus of Montreal here). He offers bribes all round to convert a closed ward into a state-of-the-art facility, but hits a problem when he wants to alleviate his pain with heroin. Pragmatically, he decides the best source of advice on finding a supply is the Drug Squad – cue Roy playing a much more savvy policeman than the nice-but-dim constable in Jesus of Montreal.

 

Now, I’m way beyond objectivity when it comes to assessing a Roy performance, but to my admittedly biased mind this short role is rather memorable. The three scenes where he contributes to the storyline by helping Sébastien while just staying on his own side of the law might be called arresting if that weren’t such a bad pun. Maybe it was the look – a distinct similarity to the policeman in Mother (LFN season 1). With a resonance like that, how’s a girl supposed to stay objective? Maybe it was the voice – that soft register which is basic Calm with a suggestion of Intelligence and a dash of Humour. A voice you would pay to hear read the telephone directory.

 

Elsewhere we recommend that Jesus of Montreal is well worth watching in its own right, plus it has the bonus of a little cameo by Roy. The Barbarian Invasions is also worth viewing, and the Roy cameo is even more satisfying.

 

Post script

After the gala performance in London, Denys Arcand answered questions from the audience – very much the same ones as he has been asked around the world – euthanasia, the use of the 9/11 footage, and so on. All heavy stuff. So it was necessary to wait till after the Q&A session to speak to him privately and to suggest that next time he writes a really big part for a policeman. Huge polite smile, but an uncomprehending ‘why?’. Denise Robert knew. “Oh, you want to see that actor again!”. Smart lady. Arcand then tells us that the US fans of Roy are called Royettes. Here we go again ……

 

The Barbarian Invasions is distributed in the UK by Artificial Eye in association with BBC FOUR. It will be released in selected cinemas around the country from 20 February 2004.

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