The Barbarian Invasions (18)

Oct 06, 2004
Cranbrook Film Society

Having a difficult time accepting the reality of death and feeling regretful of his past, Rémy is dying of cancer and tries to find peace in his last moments. His estranged son, ex-wife, ex-lovers and old friends will all come to him to share his last breath. The Barbarian Invasions is a provocative comedy about sex, friendship, and many other things that invade our lives.

His former wife Louise calls their son Sébastien in London, where he is a rich trader, to tell him his father is near death, and although he has not spoken to the old man for a long time, Sébastien flies home with his fiancée Gaëlle. Their first meeting goes badly; it is a replay of Rémy’s socialist rejection of Sébastien’s values and his “worthless” job. But Sébastien has learned from the financial world how to get things done and soon he has bribed a union official to prepare a private room for his father on a floor of the hospital no longer in use. He even wants to fly his father to America for treatment but Rémy blusters that he fought for socialised medicine and he will stick with it.

The film is an indictment of overcrowded Canadian hospitals and absent-minded care-givers but it also reveals a certain flexibility for example, when the nun caring for Rémy tells his son that morphine no longer kills the pain … but heroin would.

How Sebastian responds to this leads to one of the most delightful sequences in the film and to the introduction of a drug addict, Nathalie, who becomes another of Rémy’s carers. Marie-Josée Croze won the best actress award at Cannes 2003 for the part.

Sébastien calls up his father’s old friends. Some are Rémy’s former lovers. Two are gay. One, Rémy’s age, has started a new family. They gather at first rather gingerly around the deathbed of the person they had drifted away from but eventually their reunion becomes a way to remember their younger days, their idealism, their defiant politics. Rémy is sometimes grey and shaking with pain, but the film side steps the horrendous side-effects of chemotherapy and uses heroin as the reason why he can play the graceful and even ebullient host at his own passing.

There is a scene at a lakeside cottage that is so perfect and moving that only a churl would wonder how wise it is to leave a terminally ill man outside all night during the Quebec autumn, even with blankets wrapped around him. This is a film in which words and interaction take precedence over plot and action.

In many ways, Rémy’s death is the kind of passing we might all wish for. He does not suffer for long, goes out on his own terms and at the end, is surrounded by his friends and loved ones. He is also given the opportunity to heal old wounds and speak his mind. Who could ask for anything more?

Denys Arcand | Canada/France | 2003 | 112 minutes | 18