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The bawdier side of death has made French-Canadian director Denys Arcand an Academy Award winner.
“The Barbarian Invasions,” Arcand’s alternately mournful and merry musing on mortality, won the Oscar for foreign-language film on Sunday.
Arcand, 62, had struggled for years with a script about a man facing death, but every version he wrote turned out so gloomy he set it aside. The filmmaker finally hit on the notion of resurrecting characters from his film “The Decline of the American Empire,” which had been nominated for the foreign-language Oscar for 1986.
That sex romp featured a rambunctious gang of history scholars partying, sleeping around and joyously debating the meaning of their lives and times.
One of those lusty characters (Remy Girard) became Arcand’s terminally ill lead player for “The Barbarian Invasions.” After that, the script flowed out with grace and humor as the man spends his final days mourning his lost debauchery, reconnecting with his estranged son (Stephane Rousseau) and reliving good times with his old pals from “Decline of the American Empire.”
“We’re so thankful that ’Lord of the Rings’ did not qualify in this category,” Denise Robert, the film’s producer and Arcand’s partner, said in a joking reference to the night’s dominant winner.
“The Barbarian Invasions” also features a couple of characters from Arcand’s “Jesus of Montreal,” nominated for the 1989 foreign-language Oscar.
As Arcand was nearing completion on his screenplay in 2001, the last piece fell into place as the Sept. 11 attacks gave him his title. As his characters tried to decipher their place in history, the destruction of the World Trade Center and attack on the Pentagon symbolized the first blow at the heart of the empire, much like the barbarians at the gate of the Roman Empire, Arcand said.
Arcand even incorporated footage of the second plane crashing into the trade center.
“The Barbarian Invasions” premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it won the screenplay award and best-actress honors for Marie-Josee Croze, who plays a junkie enlisted to score heroin to ease the dying man’s pain.
Arcand drew loosely on his cordial but distant relationship with his own dad, who died in 1987, to help capture the disaffection between the film’s father and son.