Owen Gleiberman
November 20, 2003 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Barbarian Invasions

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
R
runtime
110 minutes
Limited Release Date
11/21/03
performer
Remy Girard, Stephane Rousseau, Dorothee Berryman
director
Denys Arcand
distributor
Miramax
author
Denys Arcand
genre
Foreign Language

We gave it a B-

If you saw ”The Decline of the American Empire,” Denys Arcand’s very glib 1986 Canadian gloss on ”The Big Chill,” you’ll probably remember Rémy (Rémy Girard), the lusty, garrulous history professor who had a way of discussing everything he did — the coeds he slept with, the leftist politics he embraced — as if he were the last fearless man in a world of drones. In the new drama The Barbarian Invasions, Arcand has brought Rémy back. He is now dying of cancer, with a bald dome that gives him the look of a babbling egg, yet his voluble disdain for the rest of humanity hasn’t changed much. When Rémy talks about himself (which is 100 percent of the time), it’s inevitably to justify his actions. Even in the sad, bitter twilight of his life, he remains a windup doll of nostalgic boomer righteousness — a solipsistic crank.

If I sound annoyed by ”The Barbarian Invasions,” it’s not because I have any desire to bash an elegy for the 1960s. It’s because I kept wondering how Arcand could have chosen as his generational representative a man not just flawed in his hedonism but one so fundamentally lacking in tenderness for others. As the movie goes on, Rémy smokes heroin to ease his pain (in what’s meant to be an acerbic tweak of the generally celebrated Canadian health-care system), and the other characters from ”The Decline of the American Empire” show up to see him through his last days. Arcand generates a mood of wistful tranquility that may mean a lot to anyone who can watch the movie and think, ”Rémy, c’est moi.”

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