The Barbarian Invasions
The director has not asked any more of us than that we affirm life.
By John DeSando, WCBE's "It's Movie Time"
"I hope I go like that!" This is one of the cliches we toss around when we hear of someone's pleasant death, ideally just slipping away in sleep. Canadian writer/director Denys Arcand (This is a sequel to his 1986 "Decline of the American Empire") has framed just such an occurrence without the sleep in "The Barbarian Invasions." Here the protagonist, Professor Remy (Remy Girard) exits with his friends, lovers, and family celebrating his life as he gently cedes to death.
The "barbarian invasions" are death in the form of 9/11, the usual footman accompanying all of us, and those cretins not lucky enough to have the wit of the players in Remy's life drama. In each case death begs to be confronted. The confrontation in this film is the celebration, where all living is acclaimed. Remy confirms his lust for life in jovial intercourse with friends and mistresses and his sadness at leaving.
Perhaps too conveniently, Remy reconciles with his estranged son, Sebastian (Stephane Rousseau), who has made a fortune in risk management but never risked getting to know his father until the end. (If this setup sounds familiar, Tim Burton covered the same ground recently in "Big Fish.") A junkie, Nathalie (Marie-Josee Croze, the Cannes winner for best supporting actress), supplies the heroin for Remy's last days but is on the way to rehabilitation and even snags Sebastian's affection. In short, things work out nicely at this lusty professor's death. The director has not asked any more of us than that we accept the possibility death need not be proud when its victims use it to affirm life.
Arcand not only does an exceptional job keeping "Barbarian Invasions" from the maudlin; he also deftly handles dramatic challenges like Sebastian naively asking the police to help him locate a heroin dealer for his father's pain or subtly suggesting Remy's stiff laced son may reprise his dad's priapic life.
George Herbert said of death, "Thou art grown fair and full of grace/ Much in request, much sought for as good." This film comes close to that ideal state. See "The Barbarian Invasions" for ideas about how to celebrate your own barbarian invasion.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE's "It's Movie Time," which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com.