Directed by Denys Arcand, starring Rémy Girard, Stéphane Rousseau, Marie-Josée Croze, Dorothée Berryman and Dominique Michel.

17 years after the release of his award-winning breakthrough film, 'The Decline of the American Empire', Quebecois director Denys Arcand presents a thoughtful and beautifully written sequel. 'The Barbarian Invasions' gathers many of the characters from 'Decline', all now older and wiser, but no less witty, for this comedy-drama ensemble.

'The Barbarian Invasions' opens with a long tracking 'ER'-style shot of a chaotic hospital, eventually winding its way, via mistaken identity, to the bedside of middle-aged history professor Rémy (Girard), one of the key members of the first film. Suffering from terminal cancer, he is accompanied by his former wife, Louise (Berryman), who summons his estranged son Sébastien (Rousseau) from London.

Rémy is disgusted with the way Sébastien lives his life: "My son is a capitalistic, ambitious prude, when all my life I've been a socialist...hedonist...lecher." But it is Sébastien's capitalist soul and wads of cash that bankroll and ease his father's last days. He arranges for Rémy's old friends and mistresses from 'Decline...' to reunite at his bedside, turning the journey towards death into a celebration of life. Sébastien even pays for junkie Nathalie (Croze) - his childhood friend and daughter of one of Rémy's lovers - to score heroin to ease the pain of the advancing cancer.

If the idea of a father-son deathbed reunion sounds familiar then that's because 'The Barbarian Invasions' has certain parallels with the recent Tim Burton film 'Big Fish' but on a (slightly) less fantastical scale. There are no giants or Siamese twins at Rémy's parting from this world but neither does Arcand include any of the gruesome physical details of death - or explain why these people have all the time in the world to sit around and talk. 

And talk they do, about sex and family, terrorism and genocide, the disappearance of civilisation and the invasion of the barbarian that is death. It's intellectual, entertaining and, despite a rather narrow horizon, never dull. Performances are uniformly strong, especially Rémy Girard's lusty and moving portrayal of the central character, initially raging against the dying of the light but ultimately accepting his end. Marie-Josée Croze, winner of Best Actress at Cannes, is mesmerising in the role of Nathalie.

Warm, humorous and unexpectedly poignant, 'The Barbarian Invasions' is a humanist celebration of friendship and life in the face of death. Another triumph for Denys Arcand.

Caroline Hennessy