t's taken Quebec filmmaker Denys Arcand 17 years to release a sequel to the widely acclaimed The Decline of the American Empire. The Barbarian Invasions better be worth the wait, I thought.
Writer-director Arcand revisits the main characters nearly two decades later, who have since gone their separate ways yet return to visit serial womanizer Rémy dying of cancer. No matter, amidst a crowded, decrepit hospital room, Rémy still finds the inclination for his philandering ways. The Quebec health care system takes quite a hit throughout, with Arcand's frank, scathing portrayal of socialized medicine in ruins.
His ex-wife of fifteen years calls on his estranged son living the high life in London to return and tend to him. In Rémy's view, his investment banker son Sébastien represents all that is revolting of the new generation: unbridled materialism coupled with cultural ignorance. Ironically, upon his arrival, it's Sébastien's greenbacks that squashes red tape and gets his socialist father a private room and doctor. He even manages to score heroin to ease his father's pain.
As Rémy's condition worsens, he's transported to a lakeside cabin accompanied by his baby boomer friends and family. They reminisce about the good old days, their middle-class sensibilities, their political and cultural ideals.
This reflective follow-up covers such universal themes as death and dying, aging, family, friendship, generation gap and reconciliation without feeling at all contrived or forced. It constructs an admirable treatise on life, segueing seamlessly between laughter and tears.
Arcand pulls us in with the hedonistic, leftist, intellectual main character, making him utterly likeable. Sébastien's transformation from disaffected to sensitive is believable. Dialogue is intelligent and articulate throughout, lacking the verbosity of its predecessor. This allows Arcand to focus more on developing all the returning characters. To this end, The Barbarian Invasions takes us places The Decline never did: it touches the affective not only the cerebral.
visit the Barbarian Invasions page at Miramax for more info.