THERE'S NOTHING more fascinating than watching a person develop, sometimes unhappily, over time. The 17-year interval between the shooting of The Barbarian Invasions and its predecessor, The Decline of the American Empire makes the diptych a kind of fictional counterpart to Michael Apted's great 7 Up series of documentaries, the actors' wrinkles and sagging flesh lending a similar verisimilitude. Even so, during his recent Seattle visit, the cheery, bubbly, voluble Rémy Giraud had absolutely nothing in common with his embittered dying namesake in Invasions. He and the character are the same age (53), but Giraud is more like the zesty Rémy of Empire, full of life.
Indeed, Giraud says he was "shocked" when he first read the script for Invasions and saw the poignant decline planned for his academic character. But he says he can also relate to Rémy's changing fortunes. "I'm of the same generation," he says. "I understand these kind of characters. Baby boomers [thought they] were immortal. We were free! We had sex! We had drugswith none of the drug problems we have today. [Rémy] was a lover of life, very open . . . here was no AIDS at that time. Everything was free; everything was for us; everything was accessible. And now we see a man alone, separated from his wife and, most important, his kidsnot very happy in his life. We had all these ideals, and nothing works! So what's happened? That was one of the difficulties to playing this [role]. I had to make myself reflect on this."
In the film, Rémy finds himself confronted with an adult son who's much more uptight, disciplined, and traditional than his uninhibited fatheranhedonia as heir to his hedonism. Worse, Sébastien prefers video games to reading! "As an intellectual," Giraud continues, "it's awful for [Rémy] to see that nobody in his family is interested. He says at the beginning of the movie, 'My son has never read one fucking book!'" (Ironically, it is the daughter of one of Rémy's mistresses, to whom Rémy has no biological relation, who ultimately becomes his protégé and intellectual heira legacy at last.)
So does Invasions provide a sort of conservative coda to Empire? Is it a sort of rueful anti-hippie, anti-intellectual, anti-'60s comeuppance to all that boomer freedom and idealism? As Dubya is to Clinton, so is Sébastien to his father? Giraud isn't so sure. "Is that the way we go, the puritanism? I don't know. The power in Canada right now is not so conservative [as in the U.S.]. I think it's sad. I don't know why you always have this pendulum in history. I should expect better from our generation."
Still, his character doesn't exactly die a sad or discontented man. In answer to what Giraud calls "This eternal questionwhat I will leave?", Rémy doesn't do so badly. B.R.M.