The Barbarian Invasions (2003)
The Barbarian Invasions is a rare and unconventional film: it is complicated, but the complications come not from the plot, but from the characters. At the end of the film, we are not left wondering what happened, because all of the events in the film are pretty clear, but rather why what happened did, and what the motivations were. This all sounds fairly abstract, I'm sure, but when you see the film, you'll understand what I mean.
Remy is a now-former college professor lying on his death bed in a hospital, suffering from a terminal disease. His son Sebastien, a young man with more money than he knows what to do with, comes to Montreal from London to be with his father in his dying days, but there is bad blood between them. Sebastien resents his father for never being there for him and his sister when they were children. You see, it was a well-known fact that Remy was unfaithful and had many mistresses for a long time. His wife knows this and has forgiven him for it, but Sebastien has no way of recovering his lost childhood spent mostly without a father, and so he bears a grudge; however, here he is, constantly at his father's bedside.
Not only is Sebastien there, but he is doing everything in his power to make his father comfortable: he manages to get his father a private room on an empty floor in the hospital, and gathers together all of Remy's old friends to come and visit him. And when his father's pain is unbearable, Sebastien, on the advice of a doctor friend of his, recruits an old friend and now a junkie, Nathalie, to buy heroin and take it with Remy to ease his pain. Along the way, we learn more and more about Remy and his life, through stories told by his friends, his wife, and himself. The main thing he worries about on his deathbed is whether his life had any meaning.
All of the characters are so complex. For instance, Remy's wife has known about his mistresses the entire time, and yet she is still unabashedly devoted to him. She obviously thinks he is a wonderful man, yet he regrets a lot of things he did and a lot of things he didn't do. He doesn't see himself the same way as everyone else seems to. His relationship with Sebastian is similar: Sebastien resents him to no end, yet finds himself drawn to his father and unwilling to let him go. And Nathalie may be the most complex individual: she is an admitted junkie, she knows she will let Sebastien down and doesn't seem to care. During her interactions with Remy while getting him high, she seems to change. Maybe she never realized what the drugs were actually doing to her because she never had company.
This is a very good film; it many of the elements that make movies interesting: humor, suffering, intellect, existentialism, and ultimately heartbreak. It's a thinkpiece, and when it was over, it had me thinking, but I wasn't quite sure about what. If you want to be seriously challenged by a film, and laugh a little bit along the way, then The Barbarian Invasions is for you.
March 14, 2005