Review: ‘The Barbarian Invasions (Les Invasions barbares)’

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of loose women; it’s wonderful to be dying in Montreal.

Rémy (Rémy Girard) is a collage professor diagnosed terminally ill with brain cancer. In an over-crowded Montreal hospital lorded over by union workers who do as they please, Rémy is just another patient waiting to die until his wealthy son Sébastien (Stéphane Rousseau) make other arrangements, renting out an entire unused wing of the hospital and other arrangements at considerable expense to make his father more comfortable. Surrounded by friends, family, mistresses and junkies, Rémy reminisces while trying to figure out what, if anything, his life has meant.

There’™s a feeling similar to The Big Chill when watching this film, the notable exception being that the catalyst for the gathering is still alive but waiting to die nonetheless. Among the relationships are Rémy?€™s issues with his son, Rémy?€™s wife (Dorothée Berryman) issues with Rémy’s admitted mistresses, and a new relationship and perspective on youth with a heroin addict named Nathalie (Marie-Josée Croze). Each facet of Rémy’s life is explored in each of these relationships, bringing him closer to an understanding of his own impeding death since waiting is all he can do.

When the plot isn’t being moved along towards its inevitable conclusion, lengthy conversations between characters inevitably find their way back to death. They also discuss many truths about other subjects as well, not the least of which is a telling foreigner’s view of America since September 11 (which is usually less sugar-coated than hearing an American, even with the same opinion). Of course, United States’ changing view of the world is more or less catching up to what the rest of the world already knew: no one and no country is 100% safe and one can only hope to enjoy what little time they have as best they can.

Rémy Girard has the unenviable task of carrying the film as a man too proud to let on that he’s frightened to die; all Kevin Costner had to do was lay there and not move to be the topic of conversation. While most of the cast did an equal job holding up their end, the conversation between Rémy and Marie-Josée Croze hold an additional curiosity and impact. She’™s teaching a man who has lived his life to the fullest how to properly relieve his pain with illegal drugs, while she as a junkie probably won’t live long enough to enjoy such a life. Hers is the meatiest role after Rémy, and she plays it perfectly.

Life is a journey; some have come to its end, some are still living it, and others are just starting out. No one is really safe, nothing is really taboo, and rules are really just for people who can’t afford to go around them. But since the barbarian invaders are already living next door, why not invite them in for a drink and have a conversation?

(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)

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