All academics ever want to talk about is tenure, right? Wrong, according to French Canadian writer-director Denys Arcand. The Barbarian Invasions, which just won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, is a sequel of sorts to 1986's The Decline of the American Empire, and once again a group of history profs sit around talking about...sex. The difference is that, this time, they're older -- retirement age instead of mid-career. And one of them is terminally ill, which casts a lengthening shadow over these tenured radicals and their bobo paradise.
Even among the free-lovers of the last movie, Rémy (Rémy Girard) was the horny one, flitting from woman to woman like a bee in a field of flowers. Now, he's stuck in a hospital that looks like a M.A.S.H. unit in a war zone, the hallways crammed with patients. "I voted for Medicare, and I'll accept the consequences," he says, but you get the impression from his angry outbursts that this roly-poly satyr has lost his lust for life. Only a visit from his old friends, who spend more time talking about sex than actually having it these days, gets a rise out of him.
The friends are shunted off to the side, for the most part. Instead, The Barbarian Invasions focuses on the relationship between Rémy and his estranged son, Sébastien (Stéphane Rousseau). A London investment banker, Sébastien resents Rémy for having screwed his life away, whereas Rémy can't believe a "sensuous socialist" like himself could have fathered a "puritanical capitalist" like Sébastien. The thing is, Sébastien's wheeler-dealer ways come in handy. Working the hospital staff, he secures Rémy the best health care that bribery can buy.
It's a movie about reconciliation -- father and son, socialist and capitalist, baby boomer and Gen-Xer. And although fans of the last movie may miss the dirty talk, which would have made the "Sex and the City" crew blush like schoolgirls, The Barbarian Invasions has its consolations, including the touching scenes where Rémy sloughs off this mortal coil. As Rémy, Girard is as irrepressible as ever -- older, yes, but not one bit wiser until it's almost too late. "I'm a total failure," he says, having thrown his whole life at women before getting burned by Lady Luck.