by Dennis Morton
Aired March 30, 2004
Its been years since Ive paid attention to the Oscars.
But this year the award for best picture was right on the nose.
Im not talking about the highly overrated Lord Of The
Rings trilogy. Im talking about the award for best foreign
film. It went to Denys Arcands The Barbarian Invasions.
Now that The Passion Of The Christ has demystified subtitles
for those who were previously allergic to foreign films, (which
is Gibsons only real contribution to cinema), theres
no excuse for avoiding movies like The Barbarian Invasions.
Arcands latest is a work of genius. Its deeply sad,
often funny, and always smart very smart. I love listening
to the conversation of brilliant people. And if you do, too,
you wont want to miss this one.
Invasions is about much more than witty conversation.
Its about love, lust, loss, regret and misunderstanding.
Its about reconciliation and, if you will forgive the
cliché, a search for the meaning of life.
In his new movie, Arcand reassembles the cast of The Decline
Of The American Empire, a film that came out in 1986. In that
movie we follow a handful of men and women in and out of gyms,
bedrooms, kitchens and classrooms. We learn about their infidelities,
their appetites and their intellectual passions. They share
an interest in art, literature and most of all, history.
The earlier film opened with a scene that reminded me of a real
estate broker making a pitch. A history professor is introducing
his class to the fundamentals of the discipline. He tells them
that history is about three things: 1) numbers, 2) numbers,
and 3) numbers. And then provides his students with appropriate
examples. This slant on reading history arithmetically continues
in The Barbarian Invasions. We get a century by century scorecard
of the mass murder world series.
In the face of such knowledge, its hardly surprising that
some live as if there were no tomorrow. And by that measure,
the larger ones appetite, the larger ones life.
But what happens when the limits of sensuality are approached
and a reckoning of the costs is at hand? Thats the central
theme in The Barbarian Invasions.
Its a film that explores the consequences of a life of
the senses, but its also a film about ideas. For me it
was tremendously exhilarating.
For Arcand there are no sacred cows. I suspect I know where
his social sympathies lie, but hes merciless in portraying
institutions that fail to deliver the goods, no matter how egalitarian
they are. Early in the movie the camera follows a nun through
the corridors of a Quebec hospital. Its nightmarish and
frightening. And advocates of a single payer health system,
of whom I am one, will be devastated by it.
Beautifully filmed, acted, written and directed, The Barbarian
Invasions is quite simply the best movie Ive seen in a
long time. With
Invasions, Arcand joins the ranks of Spains
Almodovar as one of the worlds great filmmakers. Dont
For KUSPs Film Gang, this is Dennis Morton.