Review of "The Barbarian Invasions" (French 2003)

The Barbarian Invasions (aka. Les Invasions barbares)

Language - French
Genre - Drama
Release - 2003

At first glance, an Oscar winner for Best Foreign picture about an middle-aged man dying of cancer, might lead you to expect a deeply sensitive tale about family relations, raw emotions and loads of melodrama. The Barbarian Invasions (Les Invasions Barbares) is not that movie, not quite. The movie is rather a celebration of life, cherishing fond memories, rekindling relationships and not losing yourself in the face of an imminent and impending death.
  The Barbarian Invasions (Les Invasions Barbares) is the sequel to the 1986 Oscar nominated film The Decline of the American Empire by the acclaimed French director Denys Arcand. The movie also won the 2004 Caesar Award (French equivalent of Oscar) for Best Picture, and the Best Screenplay and Best Actress (Marie-Josée Croze) award at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival. The dying man is Rémy (Rémy Girard), a 50-something jovial history professor in Montreal who believes in a hedonistic existence. The news of Rémy's ill-health brings his ex-wife Louise (who had kicked Rémy out of her home 15 years ago for his various mistresses) to the hospital. Shocked by his condition, Louise requests their son to come home. A strong believer in the Socialistic ideologies, Rémy carries a strong disdain for the chosen profession of his estranged rich son Sebastien (Stéphane Rousseau), working in London in the field of Quantitative Finance, and earning 'more money in a month than what Remy earned in a year'. Rémy and Sebastien are truly a generation apart.

Rémy pursued ideologies with social tendencies, and women all his life whereas Sebastien leads a materialistic existence that believes in immediate gains. Despite the circumstances, Sebastien and Rémy struggle to reconcile their differences immediately. Sebastien however uses all his experience of the capitalistic system to cut through the bureaucratic hassles to move his father to a private room in the hospital. Though still struggling to reconcile with his dying father, Sebastien calls up Rémy's old companions which include his former mistresses, a gay friend, a friend who recently married a much younger woman and has young kids to keep his life busy. Their reunion at Rémy's new private room is the scene of interesting discussions where they reminisce about the interesting aspects of their past and continue their discussions on the great ideologies and philosophers who are being forgotten by the younger 'ignorant' generation.
In spite of the backdrop, The Barbarian Invasions manages a certain amount of wit and has some interesting comedic moments. One such instance is when a nurse advises Sebastien to get some heroin to ease Remy's pain as Morphine's not too effective. Unsure of what to do, Sebastien visits a police station as he logically concludes that the Narcotics officers would probably be the most adequate people to seek help on his quest for getting heroine.
    It's the search for heroine that introduces the Cannes Best Actress Award winner Nathalie (Marie-Josée Croze) into the movie. A trouble junkie with strained relationship with her mother (who also happens to be one of Remy's ex-mistresses), Nathalie cuts a deal with Sebastien wherein she'll help administer heroin to his father in return of Sebastien paying for her addiction.

A troubled soul, Nathalie forms an odd companionship with Remy. Their 'high' discussions causes Remy to do a bit of introspection to attempt to define the purpose of his existence. Nathalie too is driven by Remy's spirit of leading one's life to the fullest and decides to make an attempt to kick her habit.The movie culminates with gorgeous last moments at a lake-view cottage where Remy's family and friends reminisce about their beautiful and cherished memories and the father and son express their deepest affection for each other and their contrasting perspectives on life seem to matter none-at-all. This is a farewell for Remy where the beauty of a life well-lived is celebrated, though with a heavy heart.