A grouchy old professor lies in the hospital, slowly dying of cancer. His ex-wife is by his side, his estranged son flies in with his wife. Other old friends — lovers and buddies — gather and turn his deathbed into a celebration of life.
In “The Barbarian Invasions,” premiering this weekend at the Smith Opera House, Canadian writer/director Denys Arcand revisits characters and intertwined lives he first looked at in 1986's “The Decline of the American Empire,” but it's not necessary to have seen that film to enjoy this one. And despite its steady march to oblivion, “The Barbarian Invasions” is truly enjoyable, a film about the meshing and separation of lives, about beginnings and endings, hopelessness and friendship that's as funny at least as much as it's sad.
Remy Girard plays Remy, the dying, liberal professor who disdains the financial success of his straitlaced stockbroker son, Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau), just as he disdains a great deal in life.
He begins to disdain Sebastien a bit less when, through some well-placed bribes, he manages to have Remy taken off the overcrowded hospital floor he was on and set up in a private, comfy room on an abandoned floor where he can entertain his friends and find some peace.
Sebastien comes through again when he enlists the aid of Nathalie (Marie-Josee Croze), the junkie daughter of one of Remy's friends, to score heroin for Remy and teach the old man to use it to ease his pain. Remy's nascent life as a druggie is a source of relief and humor, and he bonds with Nathalie, making a friend even near his hour of death.
Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, “The Barbarian Invasions” is filled with unexpected glimpses of life: The tension of an older man with a younger wife, the unexpected sympathy of a narcotics detective, the patience of a nun. It is also filled with bawdy remembrances of Remy's full life and the understanding that one love was not enough for this boisterous man.
In addition to its main goal of plumbing the human condition, “The Barbarian Invasions” deals, in often wry fashion, with a clutch of other issues. They include union politics, hospital woes, the Canadian Medicare crisis, the drug trade, fidelity, sexual playfulness, the role of God and the critical nature of individual responsibility for one's fate.
The Smith Opera House screens ” The Barbarian Invasions” at 7 p.m. May 20, 21, 22 and 24 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 23. In French with subtitles, this film has a running time of 112 minutes. It is rated R for language, sexual dialogue and drug content. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors. All seats on Thursday are $3. Call 781-5483 or toll-free 866-355-5483 for details or to pre-order tickets.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.