The month I delved into The Barbarian Invasions, Denys Arcand’s Oscar-winning follow-up to 1986’s The Decline of the American Empire. Seventeen years after his womanizing ways brought an end to his marriage with Louise (Dorothée Berryman), Rémy (Rémy Girard) is terminally ill with cancer and bedridden in hospital. This results in Rémy’s estranged son Sébastien (Stéphane Rousseau) to return to Montreal from London and care for his ailing father, despite his lingering anger about Rémy’s many adulteries tearing up their family.
In preparation for this post about The Barbarian Invasions, I went back and read by Blindspot 2015 entry for The Decline of the American Empire. In doing so, I realized that Denys Arcand created two completely different films, which just happened to feature the sames group of people. While, The Decline of the American Empire saw the characters in their 30s talking primarily about their sex lives, The Barbarian Invasions returns to them two decades later when life has clearly taken a bit of a toll.
While The Decline of the American Empire was an ensemble piece with no real protagonist, Rémy was undoubtedly the standout character in that film. As such, it is no surprise that the focus is fully on Rémy for this follow-up, even though the other characters from the previous film also make their returns. One of them is Rémy’s former mistress Diane (Louise Portal), whose junkie daughter Nathalie (Marie-Josée Croze) assists Sébastien by providing heroin to give to Rémy, since it is 800% more effective than morphine.
Arguably, The Barbarian Invasions can be seen as the crowning achievement for Denys Arcand, particularly since the film stands on its own and doesn’t really require a viewing of The Decline of the American Empire, other than to understand how the characters relate with each other. The film ended up winning six Genie Awards, including Best Picture, and also had the immense honour of winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, which was the first (and so far only) time a Canadian film won the award.
Overall, The Barbarian Invasions is a film about getting older and being forgiven for your past discretions and is one of the must-see Canadian films.