Volume 73, Number 39 | January 28 - February 03, 2004


Koch on Film

“The Barbarian Invasions” (+)
I thought I would not see this film after a New York Post reviewer, V. A. Musetto, gave it a half-star and wrote, “A major disappointment from respected French-Canadian director Denys Arcand. A professor dying of cancer is reunited with his son, best friends and ex-lovers in an unbelievable, shamelessly schmaltzy drama…Skip it.”

Then a friend of mine, BM, told me that it was one of the best films she has ever seen and urged me not to miss it. So I decided to go and I’m glad that I did. It’s a lovely, sensitive and beautiful movie.

The film, in French with English subtitles, is about Remy (Remy Girard) a Montreal university academic who is dying of cancer. He is in a Canadian hospital in a cramped room with another patient. Other patients are lying in beds in the corridors.

Remy’s wife, Louise (Dorothee Berryman), from whom he has been separated for 15 years because of his infidelity, is with him in the hospital. She calls their son, Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau), a very successful businessman in banking and oil who lives in Paris or London with his fiancée. She tells him that he should visit his dying father, from whom he has been estranged for years. He protests but makes the trip with his fiancée.

The sojourn of reconciliation begins for father and son as they begin to understand and appreciate one another. In the beginning, Sebastien’s involvement centers on spending a lot of money to get his dad medical attention in the U.S. The film points out the lack of Canadian resources such as months of delay in getting a PET Scan in Canada versus immediate access to one in the U.S.

Sebastien also deals with his father’s pain. Being told that heroin is the best opiate, although illegal, he uses the services of an addict, Nathalie (Marie-Josee Croze), who buys it regularly from a dealer. Sebastien arranges for his father’s old friends and lovers, gay and straight, to visit his dad in the hospital and later at a lakeside cottage as death hovers close by. There they talk of their youth and excesses in supporting ultra-left causes.

Their wonderful relationships involve humor, love, affection and fear. (Having been confined to a hospital a number of times for stroke, pneumonia, prostate, and heart attack, I know what fear is. For me it has less to do with dying and more about becoming paralyzed and dependent.)

When Sebastien removes his dad from the hospital to take him to a cottage to die, a nurse tells him to touch him often and tell him you love him. Death does come, and the movie makes the case for assisted death under his circumstances. Yes there are tears, but there is also a good feeling of how well this family handled the torment we will all face.

When the lights went up, a man in his 40s asked me what I thought of the film, and I told him I loved it. He said, “I’m glad to hear that. My dad is 80, and when he goes, I hope he goes the same way.” I thought to myself, 80 is only a year away for me.

“Crimson Gold’ (-)
I decided to see this Iranian film after reading Jonathan Foreman’s capsule of it in the New York Post. It stated, “Another powerful, deeply humane but hypnotically slow-moving film from one of Iran’s cadre of brilliant filmmakers…”

The movie is absolutely terrible. When Foreman stated “hypnotically slow moving,” he should have added “to the point of inducing sleep.” Yes, there are shots of women in black cloaks and a presentation of a very opulent apartment fit for a Shah, but the flick is boring, boring, boring.

When it ended, one woman in the audience applauded. My companion, HG, told me that he wanted to ask her if it was in appreciation that the 95-minute film had ended. I wanted to ask her if she was related to the Shabanu - wife of the Shah. Surely the applause was not to mark a work of art. The film is in Farsi with English subtitles.

- Ed Koch


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