QUEBECOIS ECCENTRIC Denys Arcand is in such fine form that, after two previous nominations, his French-language movie The Barbarian Invasions won this year's foreign film Academy Award, marking the first time the Oscar has gone to a Canadian production. This came hot on the heels of another unprecedented win, when The Barbarian Invasions scooped all three major French Cesar awards, for best film, best director and best writer. In Cannes last year, actress Marie-Josee Croze was a surprise best actress winner, while Arcand won the screenwriting prize. He was, however, pipped by Sofia Coppola for the best original screenplay Oscar. Understandably, by the time he came to the Academy Awards ceremony, the dry-witted Canadian had had enough, allowing his producer, Denise Robert, to do the talking. He told the backstage press he was grateful that now he wouldn't have to 'talk about the film in my life ever again'. Given his success, Arcand must wonder why he messed around with the English language in 1993's disappointing Love & Human Remains and 2000's Stardom, in which he was literally at the whim of the films' stars. He at least admits that making personal films is his strong point. 'I've decided to make smaller films in Montreal, the way I want,' he says. The 62-year-old, who achieved international fame with 1986's The Decline of the American Empire, a Canadian version of The Big Chill, receiving an Oscar nomination for that movie, as well as for 1989's Jesus of Montreal, started out by making documentaries. He retains strong views on topics ranging from American world dominance, to the Canadian health-care system, to the politics of personal relationships - and they all become the themes of his movies. Above all, he is a humanist, with a wry sense of humour that he injects into his stories. Yet for all his jovial, outgoing ways, Arcand resists being drawn on the meaning of his films, and seems a lot like Remy, the terminally ill protagonist from The Barbarian Invasions, who we first met as a rabid womaniser and radically opinionated, wine-swilling Montreal history professor in The Decline of the American Empire. In The Barbarian Invasions, Arcand reunites most of the original cast to bid Remy farewell, only now a younger generation also have their say, as Remy's wealthy son Sebastien, an international financier who believes everyone can be bought, comes to bankroll his death. He bribes corruptible union officials (one played by Arcand) and hospital staff into allowing his father to take over a hospital floor, and hires a drug addict (Croze) to give his father heroin to relieve the pain. Gradually, we come to understand Sebastien and clearly Arcand wants us to like him as he's played by movie newcomer Stephane Rousseau, the Brad Pitt of Canadian stand-up comedy, who is both handsome and charismatic. Arcand had wanted to write a film about a man facing his own death after recently losing both of his parents to cancer. 'I couldn't come up with a script that was funny, until I decided to bring back those same characters,' he says. 'And then it became an adventure, it was something that I couldn't really control. I never have a calculated plan. I go from film to film without ever knowing what will come next. I'm sort of fearless - not in my private life,' he says, laughing. 'I'm too old to think about risks. Whatever happened with this film, it was not going to change my life at 62.' The way in which Arcand mixes humour and emotion is unique. As the cast partook in the final death scene, filmed widescreen at the house in the original film, there wasn't a dry eye among them. Shooting even had to halt so the cameramen could remove their gloves to wipe away the tears. Audiences in Canada flocked to the film and it has done very well in France, too - where even the hardened French critics cried. The overwhelming emotional reactions to the film caught the tough-minded director by surprise. 'It's really strange, it's magical and I'm very happy that the film has been a success. It's also a film that makes people laugh a great deal; it has a truckload of energy and joy. That's usually more my style, rather than sadness, so there's a delicate balance in the writing. People do not find the film depressing. They're moved, they laugh, they're provoked.' The barbarian invasions themselves, he says, are the ways in which the world has been changed since his first movie. 'Remy's suffering from a fatal disease and we are now facing large international diseases like Sars; refugees are doing anything they can, risking death to cross borders; and you have the military attacks like September 11,' says Arcand. 'Every one of these phenomena is an invasion and we are going to have more and more throughout the next century.' What hasn't changed as much are personal relationships, of which Arcand has long been an astute observer. The scenes between Remy and his son are beautifully wrought, yet Arcand refuses to concede that the film is about generational conflict. 'I don't write about generations. What is that?' he says in his bombastic way. 'I write about people I know and it so happens I know someone very well who was a market operator in London and now he's in New York working for one of the biggest corporations in the world. I also know a drug addict who is a girl that I particularly love. I write truthfully about people I know, but whether they are representative of a generation or not, in fact, I don't give a damn.' The Barbarian Invasions will screen for the SCMP Film Club on June 16. It opens on general release on June 17.