The Barbarian Invasions

Someone once said that the wealth of a man can be judged by the family and friends he leaves behind. If that’s true, then middle-aged, cantankerous former college professor Remy (Remy Girard) is the richest man in the world. Dying from a terminal illness, Remy spends his last days surrounded by friends, family, and former lovers. It wasn’t always that way.

As “The Barbarian Invasions” begins, Remy isn’t as flush. He’s alone and angry, trapped in a antiquated Canadian hospital room with three other patients, a thorn-in-the-side Catholic nurse (Johanne Marie Tremblay), and an ex-wife (Dorothee Berryman) who seems to be the only person who cares whether he lives or dies.

All that changes when Louise (Tremblay) calls their son Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau), a financial analyst based in London, with the news. Long separated from his father, Sebastien feels distant but obligated to fly home. While the reunion isn’t perfect, it reminds Sebastien of the love lost between father and son, and he immediately sets out to remedy the situation.

Filled with both joy and tears, “The Barbarian Invasions” is writer-director Denys Arcand’s belated follow-up to 1986’s “The Decline of the American Empire.” Some of the characters are familiar, some are new, but all endear themselves to us in ways that constantly catch us off guard. Upset with his father’s living conditions, Sebastien uses his knowledge and money to secure a private room, comfort level favors, and a reunion of family and friends guaranteed to lift Remy’s spirits.

Arcand’s Oscar-winning Best Foreign Language Film is also one of his best, a sharply written, well paced and supremely acted slice of life. The characters in “The Barbarian Invasions” aren’t mourning the passing of a life, but celebrating the life of the man. Arcand isn’t as interested in the big picture as much as the pixels that make it up. There are no world altering revelations, just real people sharing real feelings about life and death.

Arcand’s dialogue reverberates with wit and reflection, and is perfectly deployed by an ensemble that feels more like a family than the results of a casting call. When Arcand’s characters talk, we listen, and just as soon as we put down our guard, he hits us with an emotional sledgehammer that leaves a lasting impression.

Girard is marvelous as the pain-in-the-butt patriarch, whose past affairs have shaped his life. That Arcand would invite each and every one to the reunion is what makes “The Barbarian Invasions” such an unexpected delight.



Remy Girard, Stephane Rousseau, Marie-Josee Croze, Marinia Hands, Dorothee Berryman. Directed by Denys Arcand. Not Rated. 99 Minutes.


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