As we near the eve of the Genies,it seemed a good moment to talk about BARNEY'S VERSION which is in contention for the most prizes at this year's Canadian feature film awards.
Based on the famous novel of the same title, it's the story of a an irascible Montreal television producer and the loves of his life. Paul Giametti manages to win our affection for Barney, making sympathetic a guy who is for the most part, an asshole.
It's a loving, attentively and very well-made cinematic adaptation of a best-selling book by a famous Canadian author. This doesn't happen often in this country and given the wealth of great books by Canadian writers, that's a pity.
Richler created a wealth of memorable characters and they are brought vividly to life. In this, BARNEY'S VERSION is very much an actors' film and there are a number of great performance by actors in smaller roles. Saul Rubinek as the religious father of Barney's first wife is brilliant as a self-righteous and thoroughly awful zealot. Bruce Greenwood as Barney's rival for his beloved third wife's affections manages to be a prize and a ponce at the same time, no mean feat. His speech about vegan-ism at Barney's dinner table is a hilarious comedic moment.
Dustin Hoffman plays Barney's retired cop father. He's a loving parent and an old school street smart guy with a lot of moxie. The scenes between Giametti and Hoffman sparkle and give the film much of its heart.
Scott Speedman nearly steals the film in the role of Barney's self-destructive, beautiful and talented best friend. Their relationship is the most interesting in the film and I was sorry the character was killed off so soon. However, it's not his story: it's Barney's.
For an unattractive man with no apparent style or charm who makes crap television for a living, Barney sure gets the ladies. He marries in fairly rapid succession: an insane but brilliant painter who suicides while they are living in Italy, a well-educated but vapid and hopelessly bourgeois society girl (Minnie Driver in a teeth-grittingly thankless role)and finally finds happiness with a luminous and intellectual broadcaster played by Rosamund Pike.
Barney courts Wife #3 relentlessly(while he's still married to wife #2)and then treats her like an acquisition, albeit a prized one, once he wins her reluctant affections. Conveniently, Barney manages to get through his first two marriages without having any children that are actually his.
Robert Lantos produced this film and it belongs to him as much as it does to anyone else. Famous directors and actors from other things he's helmed appear in cameo roles. Look for Oscar winner Denis Arcand as a waiter at the Ritz and Paul Gross, essentially as himself. You sense this memento mori is as much Lantos' as it is Richler's.
The Montreal shown here, a very white Montreal where French Canadians only appear as showgirls, servants and hockey players is long gone. BARNEY'S VERSION's main competitor at this year's Genies is a French language film INCEDIES based on a play written by another famous Montreal writer, Wajdi Mouawad. I have to say, I find this more than a little ironic.
BARNEY'S VERSION is a beautifully made homage to a time that is, for most of us, very thankfully over. This Barney, like another famous Barney is a lovable dinosaur.