In many ways, Remy in “Les Invasions barbares” is director Denys Arcand’s alter ego. Says the 63-year-old director, “I suppose he was a way of facing my life and my crimes, you know.”
Like Remy, Arcand is a gourmand who loves wine. Like Remy, he had embraced many 20th-century “isms” and had once told a Chinese actress that he admired the Cultural Revolution very much. “Her father had been killed by it and her mother had committed suicide. And I had the gall to tell her such a thing. Many years later, the guilt still stings.”
Arcand, one of Canada’s most valued filmmakers, says he could feel “Invasions barbares” was going to be a success even during the shooting. “We filmed the scene of Remy’s daughter on the boat, sending her satellite message to him. And the cast and crew gathered to watch the footage on the computer screen . . . and there was an absolute silence. Everyone was so moved. It was then that I knew.”
His instincts were true: The film has won 25 awards on the international film circuit, including an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Arcand showed up for his interview in Tokyo casually brandishing the Oscar statuette in one hand, urging everyone in the room: “Here, hold it, feel how heavy it is.”
However, when asked whether the Academy Award (and all the others) changed his life, he says, with a shrug, “Not at my age. You know, when you’re 30 or 40, these things are life-altering. You become famous, wealthy, you feel like you’ve gotten somewhere. This happened when I won an award at Cannes in ’86 [for 'The Decline of the American Empire']. But now, even with this statue, I know nothing will change. I can continue making films, which is important, but that’s all.”
Arcand has been accused of anti-American sentiments before, and in “Invasions barbares” Remy and his friends criticize the United States with frank candor, but the director says this isn’t the point. “I never intended anything of the kind,” says Arcand. “One of the points in the story is the futility of political discussion, at least on an individual level. Besides, if I wanted to change the world, why would I make movies? Much more effective to start my own party.”
He also says that the movie is as much about money as it is about ideology. “The character of the son, Sebastian . . . he fascinated me. Here was a man who spent most of his time moving money around. He always needed to be in control, to be giving orders or doing something, instead of pondering.”
To research the life of a London broker like Sebastian, Arcand had parked himself in a brokerage for a few weeks and carefully formulated the character.
“Sebastian does what he does for Remy because it is the only thing he knows how to do. He’s so damn efficient that at first, Remy is secretly terrified of him.”
As for the daughter, there was a reason he made her presence brief and virtual. “I could not deal with the daughter actually being there — she would have had all sorts of repercussions,” Arcand says. “For one thing, Sebastian wouldn’t have such complete freedom to engineer Remy’s departure, and certainly there would have been arguments about hiring a drug addict.”
Arcand says that a great physical distance between parents and children is nothing new, and family gatherings often require many air miles. “We can’t always be sure of being able to say goodbye, in person. That has become an extravagance, just as having a choice over one’s death has become an extravagance. In both things, the issue of money intervenes,” says the director.
“All his life, Remy had raged against the capitalist system, but in the end, the system was what helped to bring family and friends to his bedside. He feels the contradiction. I hope the audience does too.”