Last Rites

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Remy (Remy Girard) Is dying of cancer. But this voluble professor, whose job and joy it was to spill out his opinions while his students took notes, is not about to change his m.o. just because he's in a Montreal hospital bed. So he thunders on about the long-ago killing of "200 million" American natives by European armies--"The greatest holocaust in history happened right here"--and snipes that his businessman son (Stephane Rousseau) "is a puritanical capitalist, while I am a sensual socialist." If Fox News had a left-wing channel in Quebec, Remy would be its Sean Hannity.

Denys Arcand's The Barbarian Invasions, a multiple prizewinner at Cannes, is a comic valentine about a dying man too incorrigibly full of life to give it up. Remy was also a sexual obsessive. This is supposed to make him an endearing character, deserving of reconciliation with his family and all those who were amused or abused by his goatish charm. Old friends appear; old enemies turn wildly generous; unexpected epiphanies are sprinkled on Remy like the holy water in last rites. Indeed, the movie's plot essentially stretches out the last few minutes of It's a Wonderful Life.

Arcand (The Decline of the American Empire) has a gift for witty dialogue but a weakness for force-feeding his story with sentiment. References to ancient holocausts and to 9/11 simply expose the intent of a director who will do anything to touch his audience — with a sweet gesture or a cattle prod. And in a comedy of manners, that behavior is very impolite.