By the looks of The Decline of the American Empire and, now, it’s equally self-absorbed sequel, The Barbarian Invasions, it’s safe to assume that Denys Arcand would probably fuck himself if he could. Rémy (Rémy Girard), the intellectual creep from the director’s pompous 1986 hit comedy, is now dying of cancer. His equally insufferable son, Sébastian (Stéphane Rousseau), visits him in the hospital, causes an embarrassing spectacle before sick patients, and then begins to flash his money around in order to inexplicably ease his father’s suffering. Less concerned with the actual reconnect between father and son, Arcand lingers instead on Sébastian’s attempts to secure a private suite at the hospital and daily supplies of heroin for Rémy before then bringing together the cast of the original film for a crass reunion special. Since Barbarian Invasions more or less envisions the demise of an empire in one man’s death, it’s not surprising that this egotistical crowd-pleaser is connecting with those who think the world revolves around them. Privileged audiences that swooned for Decline of the American Empire should expect more of the same oh-so-witty jibber-jabber and specious political “noise” exchanged between Arcand’s motley intellectuals. Like its predecessor, Barbarian Invasions plays out as a midlife version of American Pie, though nowhere near as honest. Unlike the dorky father-figure Eugene Levy plays in the American Pie films, the lascivious monsters from Barbarian Invasions proudly proclaim their ability to sustain an erection before subjecting their captive audience to trite political memories and shock-jocking them with offensive racial jokes (Mother Theresa is referred to as a “slimy Albanian”). Furthermore, the heterosexuals in the film continue to pat themselves on the back for having included the gay Claude (Yves Jacques) in their circle. Arcand isn’t critical of this self-congratulatory behavior. Instead, he celebrates it as a dying philosophy being encroached by a young generation that believes money can buy you everything. Because his attempts to cushion the film’s nasty sex talk with 9/11 political contextualizations are so embarrassingly “limp-wristed” (to borrow an insult from the film), Arcand is really no different than his characters: a glib, insular monster so in love with the words that come out of his mouth to ever follow through with much of anything.
Though the video transfer on this DVD edition of The Barbarian Invasions is a little on the muggy side, Buena Vista Home Entertainment does an excellent job sprucing up Denys Arcand's otherwise anemic color palette. Blacks are solid and skin tones are excellent, and there's very little shimmering effects or edge enhancement on display. And though the film is predominantly dialogue-driven, the Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track packs a punch, especially during the opening hospital sequence and the nasty scene in the film where Arcand exploits the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
"Inside The Barbarian Invasions" begins curiously with the cast walking through the country home that figures prominently in the film. This intimate, French-only featurette clocks in at an impressive 51 minutes and should appeal to fans of the film, as it replicates the conversational tone of Barbarian Invasions by allowing the cast and crew to sit together and discuss at length the many themes of the film. Rounding out the disc are trailers for Shall We Dance?, Paper Clips, The Human Stain, and People Like Me.
Father's day is over, but what better way to show good old Dad that you love him (or hate him) by giving him a copy of The Barbarian Invasions.