The Barbarian Invasions, which earned a 2003 Oscar for best foreign film, was supposed to include a few hospital scenes shot in Burlington. But writer-director Denys Arcand says bureaucratic U.S. immigration policies prevented the Canadian camera crew from crossing the border to make art in la Cite de la Reine. Instead, he had to fake a replica of Fletcher Allen Health Care in his native Quebec.
The movie, now playing at the Roxy and opening at the Savoy in Montpelier on April 2, is a sequel to Arcand's The Decline of the American Empire, described by critics in 1986 as a French-language The Big Chill. The earlier picture involves middle-aged intellectuals endlessly discussing sex, politics and sexual politics. Barbarian reunites the same gaggle of friends, whose conversations have barely changed as they approach senior citizenship.
Arcand does, however, introduce a theme briefly addressed in his 1989 masterpiece Jesus of Montreal: The decay of socialized medicine in Canada. One character with cancer flees the chaotic local hospitals to undergo diagnostic procedures in Vermont, where the system is theoretically saner.
Remy (Remy Girard) is a retired history professor whose illness doesn't diminish his smug self-assurance or wandering eye. He holds court during visits from an ex-wife, former mistresses and several libidinous colleagues. But the relationship with his estranged son Sebastien (Stephane Rousseau), a successful financier, is poisoned by mutual resentments.
Despite this antipathy, Sebastien bribes the hospital union to secure a private room for his father in an otherwise empty wing. He also arranges for a junkie (Marie-Josee Croze) to supply heroin when Remy's pain becomes too intolerable for mere morphine.
Grim and sentimental moments are tempered by nonstop witticisms from the blowhards gathered to cheer up Remy and, perhaps, bid him farewell. A sense of doom pervades the proceedings; 9/11 is both the subtext and an inspiration for the film's title. Whether the subject is world events or risque memories, giddy abandon envelops these loquacious pals. But, at a tranquil Lake Memphremagog cottage, their rapid-fire dialogue finally slows down enough to imbue Barbarian with civilized poignancy.
Another father-son disconnect opens this weekend at the Roxy: the engrossing documentary My Architect. Nathaniel Kahn explores the heartbreaking legacy of a famous absentee dad, the late Louis Kahn. Although beloved around the world for his remarkable building designs, he remained an enigmatic womanizer with questionable parenting skills.
Last week this column focused on the controversy surrounding Lamoille County screenwriter John Fusco's new film, Hidalgo. Some people have been challenging the authenticity of his story about a real-life American cowboy who, according to legend, won an 1890s horse race in the Middle East.
Fusco senses a sort of "holy war" in the threatening phone calls he's received from Saudi Arabia, where the movie might be banned for scenes in which a sheikh's feisty daughter unveils her face.
A subsequent email from Fusco explains that he talked with reporter Simon Romero for a similar article that will grace the pages of The New York Times in the near future. A little Vermont weekly has apparently scooped the venerable Gray Lady. For Fusco, repercussions from the Hidalgo flap can be amusing.
"I just had dinner at Melben's in Morrisville, where Seven Days was circulating," he writes. "And I had close to a dozen Green Mountain Boys tell me that their deer rifles are cleaned and ready if I need them 'on the hill.'"
His "hill" is now home to Oscar, one of four mustangs cast for the title role in Hidalgo. To depict the original Green Mountain Boys, Fusco will swap jihad for revolution. His profile of Ethan Allen, Rebels, was once in the hands of a production company that wanted to save money by substituting Slovakia for New England. That deal collapsed and the screenplay awaits a Hollywood commitment to shoot in the actual historic locations.
If Rebels had gone overseas, Vermont's 18th-century maverick would have been portrayed by Jim Caviezel, currently appearing as Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. On television's Bible-thumping "700 Club," the devout Catholic actor recently pointed out that his own initials are J.C. and he was 33 when Mel Gibson first called him about the part. That, of course, is also the lead character's age.
Ethan Allen was a Deist, someone who believes in a supreme being but seeks guidance from nature and reason rather than divine revelation. Not J.C.'s cup of tea.