The 2003 film “Les Invasions Barbares” (or “The Barbarian Invasions”) is sequel of sorts to the 1986 film “Decline of the American Empire.” I write “of sorts” because the film involves the same cast of characters but is not sequential — which means it’s not necessary to see the first film in order to appreciate the second.
Both films are the creation of French-Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand and his screenplay for “Les Invasions Barbares” was a winner at the Cannes Film Festival. The film also won the Best Foreign Film Academy Award that year. On Tuesday, May 10, it will be screened at the Shelter Island Library at 7 p.m.
The film is the story of the last days of history professor Rémy, played by Rémy Girard. His estranged son, Sébastian, a wealthy investment banker living in London, returns to Quebec to reconcile with his dying father and to learn some lessons about living. During his visit, he calls old friends of his father, colleagues and mistresses for one last get together -— a dinner to celebrate his life.
Don’t be fooled. This film may be about dying, but these people are all full of life, love, and joie de vivre. The performances are excellent, understated and the actors imbue their characters with real emotions and reactions. It is a film less concerned with death than with what makes life special. The commentator in the anthology “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” closes his description of “Les Invasions Barbares” with, “How novel to have a film about death be so positive about life.”
Roger Ebert called it a masterpiece. Critic Leonard Maltin gives it his maximum of four stars and writes, “Arcand’s extraordinary script deals with mortality, sexuality, dreams and hopes unfulfilled, the power of money, the erosion of intelligence and much, much more. A rare film that is both cerebral and emotional; satiric, sophisticated, witty and profoundly moving.”
You may wonder how a film about dying can be such a delightful comedy. Come to the library next Tuesday and find out for yourself. “Les Invasions Barbares” is a short film, only 97 minutes, and is in French with English subtitles. The movie committee calls it great, so join all of us in the library’s Gill Patterson Community Room for a memorable evening.