The Barbarian Invasions | Chicago Reader

The Barbarian Invasions

Rated R 99 minutes

A jovial, randy academic in his 50s (Remy Girard) is dying of cancer. His estranged son (Stephane Rousseau) has returned from abroad to take care of him, and his close friends gather to say farewell. Some of the characters in this bittersweet autumnal drama (2004) by writer-director Denys Arcand are from his earlier The Decline of the American Empire (1986), which resembled The Big Chill but was more probing and sophisticated. These well-to-do intellectuals are still bantering 17 years later, and their conversation remains scintillating, biting, and civilized, though it's now tinged with the sad wisdom of middle age. Arcand obviously identifies with them, and he seems ambivalent toward the younger generation and toward foreigners. His fondness for the good old 60s can be cloying, but despite an uneven cast, he finds a tonal balance between sentimental and cynical that keeps the conversations real and heart wrenching. In French with subtitles.

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