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on 3 September 2004
This, unlike the title suggests, is a deep and moving film following the last few weeks in the life of our terminally ill, womanising hero, Remy.
The story centres around Remy as he spends time with his old friends and mistresses, as well as getting to know for the first time his estranged son. Remy is struggling with the fact that he knows he has reached the end of his life, and still feels like he hasn't learned or accomplished anything.
However, after many scenes of fascinating reminiscing and discussion, Remy comes to realise what his, and everyone else's life is really worth.
I found this film extremely moving as well as interesting. The 'barbarian invasions' of the title seem to refer only to the invasions of the modern world, be it his son, the capitalist, the drug dealers now invading the city, or the terrorists we see on the news who are now bringing an end to the way of life enjoyed by Remy's generation.
This is one of those films where not a lot actually happens, so if you're a die hard action fan, this isn't for you. In fact, the only reason this doesn't merit 5 stars (so close) is because it can, at some infrequent points, seem a bit academic. But for everyone who can appreciate brilliant dialogue and outstanding directing and acting, I'm sure you will find something to love about this film.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 February 2006
A somewhat lovable epicurean womanizer (Rémy Girard as Rémy) is dying of cancer in the hallway of a crowded Quebec hospital. His accomplished millionaire son Sebastian (Stéphane Rousseau) decides that as a fitting last gesture of love for his partially estranged father he will make dad's last days as happy and comfortable as possible. To this end he gets him not just a private room, but a private floor in the basement of the hospital by bribing the right people. He recruits a handful of Rémy's old friends and ex-lovers to come and visit him amid sumptuous servings of food and wine. He pays some ex-students to come and remember their not exactly beloved teacher. And finally he gets a strayed family member Nathalie (Marie-Josee Croze who won the Best Actress award at Cannes for her performance) to procure and administer heroin to Rémy for his pain.
Girard is excellent in the part (although he carries a bit too much weight for a guy about to die of cancer); but what makes this an outstanding film is the award-winning script and direction by Denys Arcand. This is a movie that is witty, honest, funny, sentimental (but not too sentimental), deeply human, candid about life, love, sex, and death, and filled with the kind of sharp, satirical dialogue that all screenwriters wish they had the ability to write. However this movie will offend some people, which accounts for some of the nasty reviews.
First, there is the little matter of heroin. Arcand makes the experience seem like something wonderful and absolutely necessary in a medical sense. But a closer look reveals that this justified use is only for Rémy who is a terminal patient in excruciating pain. Note that Nathalie is a junkie who is ruining her life and knows it.
Second, there is the candor about Rémy's sex life and the many risque jokes including some from an old gay couple that may offend some mainstream viewers. And there is an elitist feel to the intellectual atmosphere of the gathered friends that will not set well in America's (or Canada's) Heartland. And some will be offended by the implication from Sebastian's arrogant and successful behavior that money can buy almost anything and that corruption is the order of the day. And finally there is the matter of euthanasia which some viewers find immoral.
However this is not primarily a political movie. The dialogue that refers to the evolution of some of the characters from socialists to deconstructionists, is kind of like somebody from say Texas recalling that "I used to be long-haired hippy but now I'm clean-shaven evangelical." It's appropriately atmospheric talk from Rémy's academic world. The real story here is about how to live and how to die. Arcand's prescription is to live life to the fullest and to die peacefully in your sleep. This is the civilized way, and that is part of the reason that the film is ironically called "The Barbarian Invasions" (from a line in the film). When it comes to civilization the barbarians are always at the gate.
Of course if we want to get symbolic, the barbarian invasions could include the cancer itself, especially when we consider that Rémy is a history professor who has spent a lifetime reading, writing and lecturing about barbarian invasions. (By the way, whether the 9/11 attacks on the US are barbarian invasions is again beside the point of the movie.)
Bottom line: this film won a slew of international awards including the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004. It is one of the best films I've seen in a while. I would rate it in my top one hundred of all time.
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Infrequently, if at all, does a film for general release revolve around normal, natural death, i.e. one not brought on by fanged space aliens, world-renting cataclysms, wild gunfights, or some other Tinseltown special FX. Hollywood script writers should walk though any cemetery sometime. Not since the 2001 tour de force, WIT, starring Emma Thompson, has the topic been intelligently portrayed. Now comes THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS, a powerful French Canadian film of albeit misleading title.
London investor Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau) is summoned home to Quebec by his mother, Louise (Dorothee Berryman) to attend the approaching death of his father, Remy (Remy Girard). Father and son have been long estranged - ever since Remy and Louise divorced. Remy, an outspoken Professor of History and a self-described "sensuous socialist", has spent his life indulging in wine, women, song, and learned conversation. Especially women. The reunion shows little promise of succeeding, especially after a stormy shouting match in Remy's bleak hospital room that leaves the audience facetiously asking, "That went well, don't you think?" But, after Louise reminds her son of a paternal love long forgotten, then filial duty and guilt compel Sebastien to use his considerable wealth to arrange an easier transition for Old Dad by improving the conditions of his hospitalization, and to gather around his treasured friends, colleagues, and mistresses.
The "star" is Remy, who, at the end of his life, contemplates and comes to accept the final sum of it. This exercise would be thought-provoking enough in itself, but writer/director Denys Arcand also interweaves into the plot such prickly subjects as socialized medicine, euthanasia, and the use of illegal drugs to ease terminal medical conditions. About universal health care as practiced in Canada, in the bureaucratic, union-controlled, and overcrowded web of which he is now entangled, Remy stubbornly rants that since he voted for it, he certainly wasn't going to run off to the United States for something less squalid.
Every role in this Cannes Film Festival award-winner is excellently played. Best Actress went to Marie-Josee Croze as Nathalie, the heroin-addicted daughter of one of Remy's ex-mistresses, who is recruited by Sebastien to obtain the banned substance to ease his father's suffering. Remy's lust for life has a profound effect on the young woman.
THE BARBARIAN INVASIONS is a film to be viewed by everyone who'll one day die. Unfortunately, the majority of moviegoers will stay away, opting instead for the mindless bread-and-circus fare habitually doled out into the cinematic trough by the major studios. Shame!
The last twenty or so minutes of the film, which are set at a lakeside cabin, contain some of the most poignant and emotionally powerful moments I've seen recently on the Big Screen. Lucky is the person who can say to those gathered around his/her deathbed:
"Sharing with you this modest life has been a delight".
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on 1 July 2007
The most skilful attribute of "The Barbarian Invasions" is the clever way in which the film intertwines a personal story with our collective history. I don't remember another recent film that has managed to move and making me feel involved as much, and in both respects. The film is incredibly accurate in capturing a "moment", an undercurrent; difficult to articulate and to put in words, of what it is happening in our world today. It does this with remarkable restrain and in small measures in the delivery of details, giving us few but quite powerful facts.

The film centers on Rémy's estranged relationship with his son Sebastian (stand-up comic Stéphane Rousseau) a millionaire London businessman. When Sebastian comes to Montreal with his fiancée (Marina Hands), years of resentment against his father boil to the surface. Rémy apparently was not an exemplary father figure. He cheated on his wife, over indulged himself in hedonistic pleasures, and offered less than the support his children needed. Rémy, a socialist, considers his son a "puritanical capitalist" and one who portends the coming "barbarian" invasions. Sebastian resents Rémy for his womanizing and calls him "contentious". In spite of this resentment, however, he starts throwing money around to try and make his father's final days more comfortable, in a way subtly letting his father know that money can buy anything.

"The Barbarian Invasions" is not a perfect film by any means but is one of the strongest Canadian films. Though some of the dialogue is strained, underneath there is a humanity that allows us to connect with our feelings about our own mortality and our relationships with those we care about. It is often hard to reconcile the robustly alive Rémy with our pictures of a man dying of cancer but Girard is powerfully effective in the role and I went from quiet distaste of his amorality to full acceptance of who he is by the end of the film. Though the conclusion is emotional, it is not trite or overly sentimental but allows us to access the deep place of silence within ourselves and embrace the mystery. There are a lot of interesting, thought provoking lines in the movie and it makes you think, stand, and react to the issues at stake plus ponder on.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 March 2011
An intelligent, witty, barbed, but still emotional film about; death,
family, friends, class, intellectuals, hard headed capitalists vs. soft
headed socialists and more.

A sequel (17 years later!) to Arcand's 'Decline of the American Empire'. the
film finds the same characters gathering together around the impending
death from cancer of their Falstaffian friend Remy. While it's a bit
'prettified' about the pain and indignities of dying from cancer it's
honest and funny and true about the compromises we make in life, the
fact that few of us ever live up to our dreams and ideals, and that even
when we do, we sacrifice something in the process.

A film where the final reconciliations feel earned and complex, not
Hollywood easy. And where irony dances gracefully with sentiment.
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on 12 June 2013
Interresting how family and old friends, mistresses relationships work while rallying around a man dying. At time funny and moving.
MH
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on 22 December 2009
I'm not sure why this film is so acclaimed. The storyline is pretty mundane and the script is full of pretentious referencing.

I enjoyed watching the film but when it comes to family get-togethers it is hard to beat Festen: 10th Year Anniversary Edition [DVD] [1998].

This just left me feeling bemused at all the fuss.
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on 10 June 2011
Unfortunately, the film was in French and subtitle in English, do not do justice to the content of the movie. Highly recommended.
Business with amazon.co.uk was perfect. This is my first time ordering with them from Italy. Cheers!
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on 8 February 2005
Well you have to buy this if you are keen on Foreign movies OPscar winners. The DVD was the first I saw this film and I think the film deserves to be seen in a cinema, possibly one of those claustrophobic arthouse cinemas. The film itself is claustrophobic , with most of the action taking place in the hospital room of a dying lothario. Nice script with some odd twists that are never explained or resolved helps. The DVD extras are not great - really you are buying the disc for the film.
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