The Barbarian Invasions Review

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A London-based financier (Rousseau) returns to Québec and uses his wealth and wiles to help alleviate his estranged father's (Girard) terminal cancer by arranging for alternative healthcare and assembling his former academic comrades for a last dig at lif

★★★★★

Denys Arcand is easily Québec's most vaunted filmmaker, and this discursive and urbanely sour sequel to The Decline Of The American Empire (1986) will reinforce this deserved reputation. However, this 16-year reunion of a bunch of one-time politico-cultural radicals and sexual free spirits bears all the superficial sophistication of the pseudo-intellectualising chic that has caused so many critics to dismiss French director Claude Lelouch as a middlebrow phoney.

There's much to amuse and concur with in expiring professor Rémy Girard's grumpy asides on the sad devaluation of knowledge, individualism and taste. But Arcand's satirical swipes at bureaucratic ineptitude, union corruption, US imperialism and impersonal modes of communication are surprisingly clumsy. As is much of the plotting, with many incidents feeling artificial because Arcand has failed to make eminently worthwhile points with sufficient conviction.

The structure similarly misses the flashbacking subtlety of the original. Even the characterisation lacks depth, with the reassembled buddies restricted to glib bon mots, while Rousseau's yuppified son and playpal-turned-junkie Croze seem more like plot devices than people - hence the hollow clang of the conclusion.

So many fascinating ideas are raised here that Arcand's decision to explore them within the context of a self-satisfied soap is disappointing.