The Barbarian Invasions

It's no surprise that French-Canadian writer/director Denys Archand (Jesus of Montreal, Stardom) received critical acclaim for his social commentary masterpiece, The Barbarian Invasions, including some spotlight time at this year's Academy Awards. The film's major theme, a father's deathbed enlightenment, is set in post-September 11 Quebec, complete with its ailing medicare system and social infrastructure. The plot revolves around the story of Rémy, a father dying of cancer and Sébastien, the successful yet bitter son, making amends before the inevitable occurs. Though an all too familiar scenario, Archand takes a unique approach by having it play out as a reunion of the highly intellectual characters from his 1986 film, The Decline of the American Empire. A younger Rémy, as a brilliant university history professor, had boasted of his philandering lifestyle. With The Barbarian Invasions, this has now destroyed his marriage and set the tone of the relationship with his resentful son. Upon learning from his mother of the love and devotion his father paid him as a child, Sébastien has a change of heart. He decides to use his plentiful finances to bribe hospital staff and union officials into creating a private tier of healthcare on the premises to ensure Rémy's final days are spent in greater comfort. This now includes the use of heroin as medication, prescribed and administered by Nathalie, a childhood friend of Sébastien's turned junkie. The gathering of old friends and lovers turns into a bedside roast for their ailing colleague and has them recalling philosophies of life, love, sex and politics from their earlier days, some of which they still appear to practice. While I found a lot of these discussions to be intriguing and quite profound, there were times when the themes become overstated, almost to the point of becoming pedestrian. The film's title is introduced and interpreted during the group's discussions on world views and cultures, to which television images in the background recall the scene of the plane hitting the second tower in NYC to strengthen one meaning; the most obvious meaning being the central character's battle with cancer. Archand also shows the church, perhaps the most powerful body in Quebec, doing business with Gaëlle, Rémy's art dealing fiancée, in an attempt to sell off some its precious and plentiful artifacts in order to raise funds after its legal problems of late. The film's title takes on the most powerful of meanings when she informs them that they are now worthless on the world market; the most sacred of values pillaged by the society that held them. An emotionally powerful and thought-provoking film, The Barbarian Invasions had me reflecting on my relationships with family and friends and at the same time question and compare my present personal values in certain areas of society with that of my own youth.