The Barbarian Invasions

This article is about the 2003 film. For the "barbarian invasions" of Europe, see Migration Period.
Les Invasions barbares
The Barbarian Invasions

Original film poster
Directed by Denys Arcand
Produced by Daniel Louis
Denise Robert
Written by Denys Arcand
Starring Rémy Girard
Stéphane Rousseau
Dorothée Berryman
Louise Portal
Marie-Josée Croze
Marina Hands
Music by Pierre Aviat
Cinematography Guy Dufaux
Edited by Isabelle Dedieu
Distributed by Pyramide Distribution (France)
Alliance Atlantis (Canada)
Miramax Films (US)
Release dates
  • 21 May 2003 (2003-05-21) (Cannes)
  • 24 September 2003 (2003-09-24)
Running time
99 minutes
Country Canada
Language French
Budget US$5 million
Box office US$26,924,656

The Barbarian Invasions (French: Les Invasions barbares) is a 2003 Canadian-French sex comedy-drama film written and directed by Denys Arcand and starring Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau and Marie-Josée Croze. The film is a sequel to Arcand's film The Decline of the American Empire (1986), continuing the story of the character Rémy, a womanizing history professor now terminally ill with cancer. The film was a result of Arcand's longtime desire to make a film about a character close to death, also incorporating a response to the September 11 attacks of 2001.

The film was produced by companies from both Canada and France, and received a positive response from critics. It was the first Canadian film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, at the 76th Academy Awards in 2004. It won awards at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, six Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture, and three César Awards, including Best Film. The Barbarian Invasions was followed by Days of Darkness in 2007.


Seventeen years after the events of The Decline of the American Empire, Sébastien is enjoying a successful career in quantitative finance in London when he receives a call from his mother, Louise, that his father and Louise's ex-husband Rémy is terminally ill with cancer. Sébastien is not enthused about seeing Rémy, whom he blames for breaking up the family with his many adulteries. Rémy and his friends of the older generation are still largely social-democrats and proponents of Quebec nationalism, positions seeming somewhat anachronistic long after the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. Rémy does not like Sébastien's career, lack of reading or fondness for video games.

The father and son travel to Vermont in the United States to briefly receive medical care before returning to the overcrowded and disorganized Quebec hospital. Sébastien attempts to bribe hospital administration for better care, and upon hearing heroin is "800%" more effective than morphine, tracks some down for Rémy from a drug addict, Nathalie. Meanwhile, Rémy is reunited with his friends, including Pierre, Dominique, Claude and Diane, Nathalie's mother. They speak of their devotion to constantly evolving -isms, their old sex drive and the gradual decline of their vitality. At the same time, Rémy, a history professor, lectures the hospital chaplain Constance on the relative peace of the 20th century compared to past centuries, with another scholar describing the September 11 attacks as historically small except as a possible beginning of modern barbarian invasions. After retreating to the countryside, Rémy dies in the company of his friends and Sébastien, after a heroin injection from Nathalie, whom Rémy calls his guardian angel.




Director Denys Arcand developed the idea for The Barbarian Invasions out of a fascination with death and theories on the September 11 attacks.

Denys Arcand, who wrote and directed the successful French Canadian film The Decline of the American Empire (1986), developed the idea of returning to the characters years later due to a fascination with death and an idea of having a character who is expecting to die.[1] Part of his interest in the subject matter related to both of his parents dying of cancer.[2] He had tried to write screenplays about original characters going to die for 20 years prior to The Barbarian Invasions, originally pitching the idea to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation but having difficulty with the subject matter being overly sentimental.[1] He finally decided to try the story with characters from The Decline of the American Empire because of his fondness for its cast members.[1] There are also characters from Arcand's 1989 film Jesus of Montreal in the film.[3]

The September 11 attacks of 2001 occurred when Arcand was nearly finished his screenplay,[4] and gave new impetus to Arcand's ideas of "the decline of the American Empire." Arcand believed the attack represented the first of what would be many foreign attacks on the U.S.[5] Arcand also referred to himself as "post-isms," and incorporated this discussion into the film.[6] Another statement he tried to make with his film was that heroin could be legalized for terminally ill patients in Canada, claiming it already is in England.[2] Author Susan C. Boyd wrote that, despite what the film portrays, heroin has been legal in Canadian palliative care since 1984.[7] The film was produced by both Canadian and French companies, including Telefilm Canada, Société Radio-Canada and Canal+,[8] with a $6 million budget.[9]


Comedian Stéphane Rousseau was newly cast as Sébastien and won the Genie Award for Best Supporting Actor for the role.

The cast members from the previous film, including Dorothee Berryman, Louise Portal, Dominique Michel, Pierre Curzi and Yves Jacques, were easy to secure for the sequel.[1] New to the cast was Marie-Josée Croze, who was selected by Arcand after starring in the Canadian films Maelstrom (2000) and Ararat (2002). She found Arcand allowed her freedom in how she interpreted her role.[10]

Stéphane Rousseau, better known in Quebec as a stand-up comedian than an actor, was cast as Sébastien, after Dominique Michel urged Arcand to allow Rousseau to audition.[11] Arcand explained he felt Rousseau had the "authority" the other actors who auditioned did not, though Rousseau was surprised to get the part as he felt his character was colder and more of an intellectual than he was. Rousseau's mother had died of cancer when he was a child, and he had fought with his father, later incorporating that experience into his performance.[12]


The film was shot over 50 days, beginning in September 2002 and finishing in November. The bulk of the film was shot in Montreal, with some scenes filmed in London.[9] Footage from the World Trade Center attack shot by a Quebec architect and acquired by Radio-Canada was also used.[5]

For the hospital scenes, the cast and crew employed Lachine General Hospital,[11] an unused former hospital in Lachine, Quebec. Cinematographer Guy Dufaux found these scenes difficult to make interesting and realistic at the same time, and decided on more lighting for later scenes when the film's mood brightens, while using fluorescent fixtures and reflecting the former hospital's green painting to shoot the early scenes.[9] As with the first film, scenes were filmed near Lake Memphremagog.[11] Most of the film was shot using a Steadicam.[9]


News that Arcand was working on a sequel to his 1986 film was received with a skeptical and negative response from critics.[3] The film was screened at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival in May, where it received a 22-minute standing ovation, with distribution to 30 countries assured by the time Arcand received his Best Screenplay award.[13] It was afterwards selected to open the gala at the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival in September,[14] and also opened the Vancouver International Film Festival that month.[15] The film began playing in Quebec theatres in May and ran for months,[1] with its Canadian distributor being Alliance Films.[16] It opened across Canada on November 21.[9]

After Cannes, rights were sold to Miramax for distribution of the film in the United States.[17] It opened in New York and Los Angeles on November 21.[18] In France, the film was available on 450 screens at one time, the most for a Quebec film ever.[16]


Box office

The film's box office performance at Quebec theatres between its opening in May 2003 and the fall was considered good.[1] By December, its initial release across Canada made $5.9 million.[16]

In France, it grossed the equivalent of US$8 million.[16] According to Box Office Mojo, the film finished its run on June 3, 2004 after grossing $8,544,975 in North America and $18,379,681 in other territories, for a worldwide total of $26,924,656.[19] It was one of Arcand's biggest box office successes.[3]

Critical reception

Marie-Josée Croze received positive reviews for her performance, as well as the Cannes Best Actress Award and Genie Award for Best Supporting Actress.

The Barbarian Invasions has received positive reviews from numerous critics. In January 2010, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 82% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 123 reviews.[20] Metacritic reports that the film has an average score of 71 out of 100, based on 35 reviews.[21]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times gave the movie four stars and called it "a movie with brains, indignation, irony and idealism." [22] A.O Scott of The New York Times wrote "what makes The Barbarian Invasions much more than a facile exercise in generational conflict is that Denys Arcand, who wrote and directed it, has a sense of history that is as acute as it is playful," adding "The rapprochement between Remy and Sebastien is beautiful to watch" and Marie-Josée Croze's "spooky, melancholy intensity darkens the mood of buoyant sentimentality."[23] Entertainment Weekly's Owen Glieberman gave the film a B-, noting Rémy's hedonism.[24] David Denby of The New Yorker gave credit to Stéphane Rousseau for "a fascinatingly minimal performance."[25] Jonathan Romney of The Independent wrote "The film has its pros and cons, but you can't fault it for ambition: it not only muses on life and death, but also undertakes fairly comprehensive philosophical soundings of the way the world is today." Romney added Croze "has simply the most nuanced presence here: thoughtful, introspective, with a reassuring warmth and lack of cartoonishness."[26] Peter Bradshaw, writing for The Guardian, disdained the movie, calling it "grotesquely overpraised," "shot through with middlebrow sophistication, boorish cynicism, unfunny satire, a dash of fatuous anti-Americanism and unthinkingly reactionary sexual politics."[27] English Professor Peter Brunette wrote "its analysis of this state of affairs is all too often annoyingly rhetorical and, finally, altogether too facile."[28]

In Canada, Liam Lacey wrote in The Globe and Mail that the film is "upbeat and wryly positive, or at least as much as you could expect from a film that condemns the Quebec hospital system and features a death by cancer as its central theme."[29] The film drew general attention for its criticism of Quebec's health care system.[18] In 2004, the Toronto International Film Festival ranked the film tenth in the Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time.[30] David Lawrence Pike criticized the use of the World Trade Center footage as exploitative, but said despite "the crudeness and vulgarity," the film had a "particular brilliance."[3]


The Barbarian Invasions is considered historically significant as the first Canadian film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.[31] Canadian historian George Melnyk interpreted it as a sign that "Canadian cinema has come of global age," also pointing to Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) winning the Camera d'Or at Cannes.[32]

Marie-Josée Croze's honour for Best Actress at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival was considered unlikely.[17] She was not present to accept the award.[13] The film's victory at France's national César Awards was also considered a surprise, since it is mainly a Quebec film.[33]

Award Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film Denys Arcand Won [4]
Best Original Screenplay Denys Arcand Nominated
BAFTA Awards Film Not in the English Language Denise Robert, Daniel Louis, Denys Arcand Nominated [34]
Best Original Screenplay Denys Arcand Nominated
Bangkok International Film Festival Best Film Denys Arcand Won [35]
Cannes Film Festival Best Screenplay Denys Arcand Won [14]
Best Actress Marie-Josée Croze Won
César Awards Best Film Denys Arcand Won [33]
Best Director Denys Arcand Won
Best Writing Denys Arcand Won
Most Promising Actress Marie-Josée Croze Nominated
Critics' Choice Awards Best Foreign Language Film Denys Arcand Won [36]
David di Donatello Awards Best Foreign Film Denys Arcand Won [37]
European Film Awards Best Non-European Film Denys Arcand Won [38]
Genie Awards Best Motion Picture Denise Robert, Daniel Louis and Fabienne Vonier Won [39]
Best Direction Denys Arcand Won
Best Actor Rémy Girard Won
Best Supporting Actor Stéphane Rousseau Won
Best Supporting Actress Marie-Josée Croze Won
Best Original Screenplay Denys Arcand Won
Best Editing Isabelle Dedieu Nominated
Best Sound Michel Descombes, Gavin Fernandes and Patrick Rousseau Nominated
Best Sound Editing Marie-Claude Gagné, Diane Boucher, Jérôme Décarie, Claire Pochon and Jean-Philippe Savard Nominated
Golden Globes Best Foreign Language Film The Barbarian Invasions Nominated [40]
Jutra Awards Best Film Denise Robert and Daniel Louis Won [41]
Best Direction Denys Arcand Won
Best Screenplay Denys Arcand Won
Best Actor Rémy Girard Nominated
Best Actress Marie-Josée Croze Won
Best Supporting Actor Pierre Curzi Nominated
Best Supporting Actress Dorothée Berryman Nominated
Best Art Direction Normand Sarazin Won
Best Cinematography Guy Dufaux Nominated
Best Editing Isabelle Dedieu Nominated
Best Sound Patrick Rousseau, Michel Descombes, Gavin Fernandes and Marie-Claude Gagné Nominated
Best Make-Up Evelyne Byot and Diane Simard Nominated
Special Jutra Denys Arcand Won
Lumières Awards Best French-Language Film Denys Arcand Won [42]
National Board of Review Best Foreign Language Film The Barbarian Invasions Won [43]
Top Foreign Films The Barbarian Invasions Won
Toronto Film Critics Association Awards Best Screenplay Denys Arcand, shared with Sofia Coppola for Lost in Translation Won [44]
Toronto International Film Festival Best Canadian Feature Film Denys Arcand Won [45]
Vancouver Film Critics Circle Best Canadian Feature Film The Barbarian Invasions Won [46]
Best Canadian Director Denys Arcand Won
Best Actor in a Canadian Film Rémy Girard Nominated
Best Actress in a Canadian Film Marie-Josée Croze Nominated
Best Supporting Actor in a Canadian Film Stéphane Rousseau Nominated

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Peter Howell, "A Director in His Prime: Denys Arcand's Les Invasions barbares," Take One, September–December 2003, p. 29.
  2. 1 2 Skip Sheffield, "Arcand creates refreshing glance at the inevitability of death," Boca Raton News, 2 January 2004, p. 3E.
  3. 1 2 3 4 David Lawrence Pike, Canadian Cinema Since the 1980s: At the Heart of the World, University of Toronto Press, 2012, p. 102.
  4. 1 2 Associated Press (3 January 2004). "'Invasions' takes foreign-language Oscar". Today. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  5. 1 2 Howell, p. 30.
  6. Howell, p. 31.
  7. Susan C. Boyd, Hooked: Drug War Films in Britain, Canada, and the U.S., Routledge, 2008, p. 109.
  8. Nesselson, Lisa (21 May 2003). "Review: 'The Barbarian Invasions'". Variety. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 Strauss, Marise (1 September 2003). "Dufaux, Arcand reunite on Barbarian Invasions". Playback. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  10. Conde-Lord, Michelle (11 May 2003). "Qui est Marie-Josée Croze?". Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  11. 1 2 3 André Loiselle, Denys Arcand's Le Déclin de L'empire Américain and Les Invasions Barbares, University of Toronto Press, 2008.
  12. Durbin, Karen (16 November 2003). "Decades Later, a Cast of Players Faces the Biggest Chill". The New York Times. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  13. 1 2 Tremblay, Odile (26 May 2003). "Festival de Cannes - Doublé pour Les Invasions". Le Devoir. Retrieved 20 August 2016.
  14. 1 2 Howell, 28.
  15. Townson, Don (19 August 2003). "'Invasions' invades Vancouver Fest". Variety. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  16. 1 2 3 4 "News Releases". Telefilm Canada. 18 December 2003. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  17. 1 2 "Marie-Josée Croze couronnée pour "le plus beau rôle" de sa vie". Radio-Canada. 26 May 2003. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  18. 1 2 Lacey, Liam (1 March 2004). "Arcand carries off the Oscar for best foreign film". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
  19. "The Barbarian Invasions". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  20. "The Barbarian Invasions Movie Reviews, Pictures - Rotten Tomatoes". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 26 January 2010.
  21. "The Barbarian Invasions (2003): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 26 January 2010.
  22. Rogert Ebert (19 December 2003). "Movie review: The Barbarian Invasions". Chicago Sun-Times.
  23. Scott, A.O. (17 October 2003). "FILM FESTIVAL REVIEWS; Flower Children Grown Up: Somber, Wiser and Still Talking Dirty". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  24. Glieberman, Owen (20 November 2003). "The Barbarian Invasions". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  25. Denby, David (24 November 2003). "Close to the End". The New Yorker. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  26. Romney, Jonathan (21 February 2004). "The Barbarian Invasions". The Independent. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  27. Peter Bradshaw (20 February 2004). "The Barbarian Invasions". The Guardian.
  28. Brunette, Peter (12 July 2014). "A Farewell, with Facile Analysis; Denys Arcand's 'The Barbarian Invasions'". IndieWire. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  29. Lacey, Liam (21 May 2003). "Slow and decidedly sombre". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  30. "Top 10 Canadian Films of All Time". The Canadian Encyclopedia. 2012. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
  31. Wayne C. Thompson, Canada 2014, 2014, Rowman and Littlefield, p. 5.
  32. George Melnyk, Great Canadian Film Directors, The University of Alberta Press, 2007, p. xi.
  33. 1 2 Fouché, Gwladys (24 February 2004). "Barbarian Invasions overwhelms Césars". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  34. "Film in 2014". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  35. Mitchell, Wendy (4 February 2004). "Bangkok Winners Include 'Barbarian Invasions,' 'In America,' 'Last Life in the Universe'". IndieWire. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  36. "US critics give Rings four awards". BBC News. 11 January 2004. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  37. Lyman, Eric J. (4 May 2012). "'Caesar Must Die' Tops Donatello Award Winners". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  38. Playback Staff (5 January 2004). "Invasions gets Golden nom". Playback. Retrieved 28 August 2016.
  39. Yourk, Darren (16 March 2004). "The Barbarian Invasions tops Genie list". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  40. "The Barbarian Invasions". Golden Globes. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  41. "Jutras put Arcand in winners' circle yet again". The Globe and Mail. 24 February 2004. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  42. James, Alison (17 February 2004). "Lumiere Awards puts spotlight on 'Triplets'". Variety. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  43. "News Releases". Telefilm Canada. 5 December 2003. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  44. "Past Award Winners". Toronto Film Critics Association. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  45. Canadian Press (18 September 2003). "Barbarian Invasions is Canada's entry for Oscar". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 27 August 2016.
  46. "4th Annual Award Winners". Vancouver Film Critics Circle. 2 February 2004. Retrieved 28 August 2016.

External links

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