Review: “I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians”
by Stefan Dobroiu
- Radu Jude’s new feature points an accusing finger at Romania’s obstinate Holocaust denial
After Aferim! [+see also:
interview: Radu Jude
film profile], Scarred Hearts [+see also:
interview: Radu Jude
film profile] and The Dead Nation [+see also:
film profile], Romanian director Radu Jude consolidates his fame as an explorer of darker episodes in his country’s history with “I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians” [+see also:
film profile], now showing in the official competition at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (29 June-7 July). In spite of a rather overly comfortable length and unnecessary repetitiveness, the film succeeds in delivering a harsh commentary on how Romanians deal with the past.
In the present day, we watch theatre director Mariana Marin (Ioana Iacob) as she devotes herself to an elaborate re-enactment of the Odessa massacre. In 1941, the leader of the Romanian army, Ion Antonescu, orders the execution of Jewish civilians after a surprise attack on his troops. Thousands of innocent people are killed, and Mariana wants to stage it all in a square in the centre of Bucharest. She will soon come up against unexpected, ridiculous difficulties, as both the amateur actors in the show and the representatives of the town hall have rather strong opinions not only about what happened in reality, but also about how that reality should be staged and presented to the masses.
“…Barbarians” packs an extremely powerful punch, although it may prove more effective with Romanian audiences than with foreigners. The film is expected to spark wide controversy at home, as this dark episode in Romanian history was carefully redacted during the communist regime, and nowadays only a few people acknowledge the horrific extent of the Romanian Holocaust, with the number of victims, including members of the Roma community, rising as high as 380,000. Through its supporting characters, Jude’s screenplay uses a plethora of negationistic arguments, commenting on how some prefer to believe in a lie, even when shown proof that runs counter to their beliefs.
But “…Barbarians” is not only a film about the Holocaust and the way in which Romanians acknowledge it; it is also about racism and antisemitism today. And even for those who are not exactly interested in this area of history or social studies, the film is still relevant, as it is eager to explore the psychology of post-truth – that “I know better” mentality that destroys any chance of a healthy debate. Watching the characters state their categorical opinions, it is easy to understand how populism and illiberalism have gained traction in the former communist countries, where truth is more often than not an appealing, but misleading, construct.
The film is weighed down by an avalanche of quotes, some from ultra-relevant voices, such as Hannah Arendt, others from more obscure sources. It is obvious that Mariana’s arguments are actually the director’s and that his intention is not only to give rise to a debate, but also to put forward a position, before the actual debate begins. A subplot involving Mariana’s unexpected pregnancy with her married lover (Şerban Pavlu) is probably meant to humanise this fierce protagonist, but unfortunately this is less than convincing.
“I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians” was produced by Hi Film Productions (Romania), and co-produced by Endorfilm (Czech Republic), Les Films d’Ici (France), Klas Film (Bulgaria) and Komplizen Film (Germany). It is being handled internationally by Beta Cinema, and the domestic release is already set for 28 September.
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