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The Barbarian Invasions (November 22/03)

The Barbarian Invasions marks director Denys Arcand's follow-up to The Decline of the American Empire, and this is one of those rare sequels that actually manages to top its predecessor. Though the two films share a lot of the same characters and there are recurring themes in both, The Barbarian Invasions does what the original could not do - it engages the audience on an emotional level, rather than a strictly intellectual one.

As the film opens, one of the central figures of the original - the hedonistic Remy (Remy Girard) - is lying in a hospital bed, dying slowly. His son, Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau), is a successful businessman working in England, and though he's reluctant to come to Montreal to visit his father, he eventually makes the trip. After making Remy's stay more comfortable - which includes bribing various hospital officials to allow him the use of an empty floor - Sebastien arranges for all of Remy's old friends to be at his bedside.

The most obvious difference between The Barbarian Invasions and The Decline of the American Empire is the comparative lack of conversation in this one. The original film was packed with wall-to-wall discussions on everything from sex to philosophy, which made for an engaging (if talky) experience. But this time around, Arcand presumably feels as though he's said all he needs to on those subjects, and focuses more on plot and developing the central characters more than anything else. As a result, it takes a while to get used to the fact that we're not going to be inundated with words; rather, Arcand employs a more leisurely pace and allows things to unfold slowly.

This is not to say that the film is completely devoid of the sort of verbosity that made the original so unique. There are several sequences featuring the characters discussing mortality, a recurring theme throughout the movie (which is no surprise, given that Remy is dying). Because of this, The Barbarian Invasions isn't exactly light entertainment - the film requires us to contemplate heavy subjects like life and death - but in the end, the movie packs an emotional wallop that The Decline of the American Empire in no way prepared us for.

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