In the lead up to the 7th Canadian Film Festival in Australia (August 2012), join us as we countdown the Top 100 Canadian Films of the past 30 years. We'll be posting one film a day leading up to Canada Day on July 1st 2012. Do you agree with our team favourites? Let us know your thoughts!
#7 - The Barbarian Invasions
When I first saw The Barbarian Invasions, I had been writing film reviews for three or four years. When I decided, on a whim and thanks to a cinematographer friend, to apply for the 2005 Berlin Talent Campus Critics Program, I included my review of Invasions in the application – and was selected by my mentor there, ex-Variety editor Peter Cowie, based on that review.
So this was the beginning of looking at my writing seriously – and the catalyst for dropping a law degree, to do things I loved. On another personal note, when I saw this film my mum had just been diagnosed with cancer – so the film had an extra resonance of ‘Am I about to go through this?’
So often when we write about film, we affect an impossibly objective point of view, when the truth is, often films particularly resonate with us for very personal reasons – and sometimes I wish that were acknowledged. Finally, The Barbarian Invasions introduced me to the world of Denys Arcand, and set me on a trail through the rest of his films.
I’m still so struck by the exquisite sense of humanity in this film – the whole spectrum: humour, compassion, anger, fear, sadness. It’s as much a reminder to live as an elegy for the golden era of one’s life, and perhaps most poignantly, the life one has failed to live – the dreams unfulfilled, things unachieved.
The film gets a lot of its warmth from the humour and the carnality of Remy and his friends – they have been idealists, troublemakers, lovers; they are not afraid to talk about the indignities of life, such as growing old and impotent, and they are unembarrassed about their sexuality. We should all be so lucky to die surrounded by friends like this.
Arcand offsets the pain of watching this corpulent, hedonistic, lusty socialist wither and fade, by looking at the great and inevitable encroachments past and present: atheism on religion; illiteracy on scholarship; capitalism on socialism; the middle-east on the west.
For all his skilful juxtaposition of ideas, however, Arcand is most endowed by two impeccable performances – Remy Girard, as the indefatigable, unrepentant sinner, and Marie-Josée Croze, as fallen angel Nathalie: ethereally beautiful, but damning herself to a slow but inevitable death by heroin. It’s one of the film’s more obvious but nevertheless satisfying juxtapositions that even as Remy slips away, he is awakening Nathalie’s desire to live.
Croze and Girard steal the screen from Quebecois comedian Stephane Rousseau, playing Remy’s estranged son, Sebastiane. As it is his life and relationship with his father that bookends the film, it is ostensibly his film. We watch him play out an ideal reconciliation, which is probably pretty rare in similar real-life situations: he goes from clinical detachment to anger to compassion and forgiveness, and eventually even learns to find a little of Remy in himself.
On the other hand, it’s Nathalie who inherits Remy’s love-nest apartment and library, and his irreverent lust for life. Whether intentional or not, the film achieves an unusual balance of focus between the three characters – which just manages to make it all the more rich.
- Dee Jefferson
“Arcand finds a tonal balance between sentimental and cynical that keeps the conversations real and heart wrenching.” Chicago Reader
To see the other films in the countdown so far, click here.