The Barbarian Invasions

Sex, drugs, history and family artfully stirred by a master his gem from Canadian writer and director Denys Arcand (Jesus of Montreal) moves you to laughter and tears without cheating to do it. The film stays emotionally focused and politically astute even as Arcand shifts from a dying man's erotic fantasies to the aftermath of 9/11.

Remy Girard gives a hilariously scrappy performance as Remy, a skirt-chasing history professor who is handed a death sentence by his doctors. Remy and his son, Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau), a London financier, are estranged. "He's a puritanical capitalist, I'm a sensual socialist," says Remy. But it's Sebastien who gives his father a rollicking send-off. Setting dad up on his own hospital floor and later at a house by a lake, Sebastien prepares his father for several invasions: not just a killer cancer but visits from his ex-wife, two mistresses, fellow academics and a young junkie, Nathalie (Marie-Josee Croze, who won the Best Actress prize at Cannes for her powerhouse performance). It's Nathalie who supplies Remy with heroin, paid for by Sebastien, to ease his pain. Rousseau, called "the Brad Pitt of comedy" in Canada, does quiet wonders in his first dramatic role. And the kiss he shares with Nathalie is one of the screen's hottest. Arcand, using many of the actors from his 1986 film The Decline of the American Empire, takes uproarious aim at targets from health care and Catholicism to the terrors of history as Remy and his friends enjoy one last rowdy, raunchy party. It's a feast of smart, sexy, glorious talk. The Oscar for best foreign film belongs right here.

From The Archives Issue 389: February 17, 1983
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