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The Barbarian Invasions
(Les Invasions Barbares)

review by Zach B.



MPAA Rating: R (For Language, Sexual Dialogue And Drug Content)

Running Time: 99 minutes

Starring: Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau, Marie-Josée Croze, Marina Hands, Dorotheé Berryman, Johanne Marie Tremblay, Pierre Curzi, Yves Jacques, Louise Portasl, Dominique Michel, Isabelle Blais, Toni Cecchinato, Mistou Gélinas, Martia Boies, Jean-Mac Parent and Roy Dupus

Written and Directed by: Denys Arcand


Studio: Disney

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Inside The Barbarian Invasions

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, French Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (14 Scenes)

Released: July 13th, 2004



Rémy (Rémy Girard) is a history professor on the verge of dying. Suffering from an intense form of cancer, Rémy is a man who has certainly lived life to the fullest and has cherished quite a bit of it. Despite all Rémy has enjoyed, his stubborn nature and less-attractive qualities have alienated those who should be closest to him - particularly his family. Still, people are drawn to the charismatic man, especially his ex-wife Louise (Dorothee Berryman) who pleads with her son Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau) to come see his dying father. Sebastien is reluctant, as he is estranged from Rémy and has a bitterness toward him. But Sebastien leaves his high-powered, financial work in London and takes his fianceé to Montreal for the visit.

Upon Sebastien's arrival, there still are some harsh feelings between father and son but Sebastien is willing to do his best to accommodate his father and make sure he has some peace. This involves moving Rémy to a closed floor of the hospital, gathering up old friends and mistresses of his, paying off former students to see him and finding heroin to ease the pain - which leads to involvement with Natahlie (Marie-Josee Croze), the junkie daughter of one of Rémy's former conquests who ends up making quite an impact as a companion for not only Rémy, but Sebastien as well. But as Rémy and his companions come to celebrate life and relationships, Rémy himself must face and come to terms with the concept of death.

The winner of the 2003 Best Foreign Film Oscar (as well a host of other major awards, including a near-sweep at The Cesars, which is France's Oscar equivalent), and technically a sequel to 1986's "The Decline Of The American Empire" (which itself was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Academy Award), "The Barbarian Invasions" is certainly a rare type of film. It certainly is dramatic and a character-oriented piece, but it is also filled with intelligence and has wit to spare. This is a movie about life, and how death is a part of the experience - or at least the end of it. In a way, the story is about enjoying life to the fullest and having no regrets, even if sometimes we lose sight of the things that are most important to us. Rémy may not be the most honorable man and lacks some humility, but his personality and his lust for the joys of the world make him someone to envy among some of those he knows, and perhaps some moviegoers.

What makes the film so rich though is Denys Arcand's screenplay (which was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay Oscar) - it's impressive in how Arcand makes such a simple story so complex, and the way he develops the circle of his characters. The film's central story is pretty direct, but within each scene there tends to lie a deeper meaning that not only builds upon the movie's generalities, but extend out the characters as well. The film itself is strongly nuanced; a lot of the film's most important moments are carefully placed and usually subtle - some of them are pretty easy to miss. The layers run wide and deep in this movie, and you can taste the brain power (the arguments about history are fascinating) and the emotional pull.

There are some who might argue that certain scenes are pointless, but I must disagree - Arcand doesn't waste a single second, as each part to the movie does offer something that is relevant to the entire experience. Some might also argue that some of the supporting characters are not fully fleshed out. It's true that there isn't a giant back story for every character, but a tremendous amount is revealed through their introductions and mainly, through conversations the characters have with Rémy. Many exchanges, even if they last mere moments, reveal the personalities, ideas, hopes and pasts of the characters - but it's up to the viewers to fill some of this in.

As nicely as the movie covers family relationships, meanings of life and that death is something to wonder and have fears about, the content of the story ultimately stretches wide in an extremely thoughtful manner. The characters are represented as symbols here, and there are plenty of other symbolisms to consider (the seaside house, the empty floor, movie actresses of yesteryear, the sea... the list does become pretty long) that tie into things wonderfully. The film also has some metaphors (like the movie's title, as barbarians invading doesn't extend to history - but can mean several things that enter our lives and what we do), and is also stacked with irony. I wasn't expecting the movie to have ironic elements, but like everything else it melds quite well. Rémy himself and where he ends up despite everything can be found ironic, as well as a few other portions to some characters (which I won't reveal in detail because I don't want to spoil the movie, but Sebastien's fianceé is a good example). Also, the film also presents a few juxtapositions, most notably with money. The movie shows that a lot of people do have a price, and that money talks and gives you advantages, but money can't buy everything - and some of the best things (like relationships) do come free.

But as the characters question and think about their own choices and problems, Arcand reflects this on his viewers - the film interrogates its own audience on their views on what death is, but also of what life consists of. Arcand also leaves some threads open, but he does it in a very quiet and knowing manner. It's clear that like the film's topics, Arcand wants his viewers to have their own discussions and interpretations about the film's dialogue and characters. A lot of inferences can be made from certain actions and moments, all right down to the smallest gesture. This movie has an impeccable amount of depth and detail, making it warrant of repeated viewings to grasp all the little moments.

And for a film that is essentially dialogue, Arcand makes it visually interesting and captivating. The opening credit sequences within the hospital is particulary dirty and grim, but peace and serenity is captured toward the end of the film at the house by the sea - there's a calmness to those moments, even if something completely opposite looms. Arcand isn't afraid of short scenes either - there are plenty of parts that you think may last a considerable amount of time, but Arcand doesn't dwell on all the conversations and does a simple fade out into a next scene. Arguably, some parts of the movie may be a little unrealistic for some (such as the character of Rémy's nurse, and how some relationships are ultimately mended let alone how much embrace there is for Rémy). Still, this is a movie where all of this could very well happen - and Arcand makes it so involving, that any disbelief some viewers have should dissolve quickly.

The acting ensemble is perfect, and everyone at least gets a moment to shine. Some roles are bigger than others though, and those actors really get to come out into the open. Rémy Girard is Rémy, and he's just great. Girard shows cynical views and a stubborn streak, but he is also passionate, exuberant and still full of life for a man who is dying. Marie-Josee Croze as Nathalie is definitely a force, as she struggles and looks for her own solace. In a way she's poisonous, but she helps people and is honest with a lot of herself. Stephane Rousseau as Sebastien is also admirable: his emotions are well placed, and he's clean-cut. Sebastien comes into his own throughout this ordeal, as he learns some of his own lessons. Rousseau highlights the gradual surprises Sebastien is finding, especially in forming a bond with the father he thought he was through with. This is certainly a seasoned cast.

"The Barbarian Invasions" is a movie that I don't think a lot of common movielovers will digest well (or even at all), but the audience for it is probably bigger than many expect. There are plenty of out there who don't like reading subtitles, but for those who enjoy intelligent, cultured stories that lead to more questions and discussions, and those who truly love the nature of being alive, than this movie is perfect for you. Probably one of the best of 2003, this gem is not to be missed.


The back of the box says 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, but the ratio is more like 1.85:1. No matter though - this transfer is nearly flawless. Detail is more than exceptional, fleshtones look very natural and the film's picturesque look comes across superb on this transfer - it's carefully composed shots, it's fine exterior portions and the more simple, static moments look pretty lovely. The transfer is pretty sharp overall, and while it does not feature any edge enhancement, there is some noise and grain that appears here and there as well as some specks and blemishes. The color saturation is very good though, as the colors are well-represented, stand out and don't bleed. The image has its moments of being a little distracting, but other than that it is perfect.


The film is presented in its original French - you can choose between a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix or a much more straightforward, but still decent Dolby Surround mix (I'd go with the 5.1). The 5.1 track is a lot better than I was anticipating - there are some genuine moments of life in it (no pun intended). The film's dialogue is easy to hear and comes in very crisp, and the film's music - particularly the lovely score from Pierre Aviat - is mixed through the channels pretty creatively and is layered on very nicely. The overall dynamic range is good, fidelity is fine and there is some imaging going around. And while there may not be a lot of subwoofer use, there are some perfectly fine surrounds that come across in a stealthy fashion. The surrounds are pretty sleek, and include the opening in the business/stock office (with people talking and the electronic noises), the depressing noises and sounds of the hospital, the zooming of vehicles on the road, the sounds of nature, footsteps and airplanes (thankfully thought, the film's footage of 9/11 doesn't make too much of an impact). These surrounds aren't bombastic at all, but they provide a certain pleasantness and come in swiftly and quite natural - I appreciated that.

I must note that there are two subtitles streams in English - one in yellow and the other in white. Each stream has the same English translation, however, one is meant for those interested in just reading the dialogue (the yellow - as if you can hear) and the other is for the hearing impaired, as captions come up that feature the dialogue, as well as music cues and sound effects (the white). And in case you want them, English closed captions through your television is available as well.


Despite the film's pedigree, there is only one feature: Inside The Barbarian Invasions. I was expecting this to be a little promotional featurette of some kind, but this lasts a whopping fifty minutes. As you might expect, it is in French but there are English subtitles. The approach to this is pretty unique - besides the usual clips from the movie and on-the-set footage that is intersliced through, this documentary mimics some ideals of the film slightly. The principal cast and writer/director Denys Arcand gather around a table for dinner to talk about the movie, its themes and what they think it all means - and then it just branches off into a variety of topics about their own life experiences, how they relate to the world, how they relate to the characters, society and so much more. This is an incredibly open and candid conversation, and I certainly couldn't imagine many American film studios doing something like this. Sure it promotes the movie, but it encompasses so much (just like life itself) and really gets you thinking (just like the movie). It also gets you to know the actors personally and opens up things to debate and discuss. I could go on about this, but I don't know if I can really touch upon what themes are covered here in such detail - this is really well-tuned (how the edits are with the intercuts and overall flow is done extremely well). A brilliant extension of the movie, and if you love talking about life generally, experiences and philosophy... you'll really get into this. (In some respect this is as good as a cast commentary.)

However, I must wonder - will this DVD get a re-release down the line with more features? I suppose only time will tell, but this documentary covers a tremendous amount and is is pretty flawless. I'm sure there could be more to learn about the movie, but if there isn't... certainly, this single feature does not disappoint.


"The Barbarian Invasions" is a wonderful film that certainly deserved all the accolades, as it is a funny and touching piece of work that focuses on the importance of family, friends and the nature of life. While the supplements department is non-existent except for the terrific discussion piece, the film's transfer is excellent and the sound mix is quite nice. If you loved the movie then go out and get it - if you didn't get a chance to see it in theaters, then make sure this goes to the top of your rental list.