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Indie flix: A welcome invasion

Published March 18, 2004

The Barbarian Invasions (R) (99 min.) - Remy (Remy Girard) is dying, an inconvenience he doesn't mind much because he lived so well. His infidelities ruined his marriage and drove away a son, but it's a measure of Remy's charm that his ex-wife is by his bedside, often comparing notes with his current and past lovers on the other side of the bed.

It's that sophisticated blend of pathos and humor that helped win The Barbarian Invasions this year's Academy Award for best foreign language film.

Canadian writer-director Denys Arcand's casually barbed dialogue makes subtitles a pleasure. Arcand's original screenplay was also nominated for an Oscar, and it's easy to read why. Real people don't usually speak this way - or die as gracefully as Remy, for that matter - yet the extra touch of sophistication he invents, even in conflict, is refreshing.

Much of that conflict arrives with Remy's son, Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau), who hasn't spoken to his father in years while making a fortune in Europe. He doesn't owe the old man anything, but he feels compelled to throw his money around to make a dying man comfortable. It begins with arranging a private room in an overcrowded hospital and progresses to hiring a junkie (Marie-Josee Croze) to buy and administer heroin to ease Remy's pain.

As death nears, Remy is visited by friends from his days as a gadabout activist. The Barbarian Invasions is essentially a sequel to Arcand's 1986 film The Decline of the American Empire, when these characters were younger, politically involved and blissfully amoral. I've never seen that film and didn't need to to understand their personalities, their bonds that separation couldn't break and the changes that must have occurred since.

The ensemble cast Arcand assembled is perfectly in tune with his notion that a movie about death need not be morbid. That restraint makes the inevitable with regard to Remy's health and the outcome of some characters more affecting. By not reaching for tears, the filmmaker coaxes a few with gallows humor and characters sharing no regrets and only one moral: Life is short, play hard and leave a smiling corpse.

Shown with English subtitles. A

A very weak 'Statement'

The Statement (R) (120 min.) - There's an interesting angle to Norman Jewison's otherwise unremarkable film, and it was raised by the recent Jewish-Christian tensions over The Passion of the Christ. The Statement was reportedly inspired by the true story of a Frenchman, Paul Touvier, who for many years was protected from prosecution as a war criminal - he sent Jews to death while consorting with Nazis - by a right-wing faction of Catholics.

In Touvier's case, we see why some Jews are suspicious of some Christians, especially those like Gibson who handle touchy material. It's an interesting thought. A better movie than The Statement would have kept it out of my mind for the duration of the film.

The Touvier character is named Pierre Brossard, played as only the movies would attempt, by an Englishman, Michael Caine. His incongruous accent is the least of Caine's worries; the screenplay by Ronald Harwood, an Oscar winner for The Pianist, is a lumpy rehash of elements culled from postwar fugitive yarns such as Marathon Man and The Boys from Brazil. Caine handles the improbable twists and action sequences with the aplomb and heavy breathing we expect from such an old pro.

Two war criminal hunters (Tilda Swinton and Jeremy Northam) uncover the Catholic connection to Brossard, setting off a chase intersecting with another group plotting to kill the old man. That posse is a Zionist faction played so dastardly that, combined with Caine's ready appeal, it is made to appear the bad guy. In effect, Jewison does the same thing Touvier's protectors did, making a Nazi collaborator someone worthy of saving.

Jewison's penchant for social statements (In the Heat of the Night, The Hurricane) fails him, and he never impressed me as someone who should make trench coat thrillers. The Statement is a flat example of the genre, too reserved for the nasty business these films require. C

[Last modified March 17, 2004, 16:21:03]

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