How do you make art didactic? And, if you can, can it prevent history from repeating itself? Radu Jude’s “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” tackles these questions alongside a heavier task: educating viewers on the 1941 Odessa Massacre in which 34,000 Jews were murdered. The massacre began a larger, often whitewashed, genocide in Romania.
Half meta-fiction, half documentary, “Barbarians” follows director Mariana Marin (Ioana Iacob) as she attempts to stage a re-enactment of the massacre in a public square in Bucharest. Jude’s real-life challenges, examining the trauma of genocide, are also Mariana’s challenges – “Barbarians” is a film about its own making.
Jude imbeds historical artefacts into the film in ingenious ways; film clips, literary extracts and actual footage of genocide feature, and widen the scope. The resulting feel is experimental. We weave between intimately staged scenes of Mariana reading a soldier’s poetry over Skype, to the re-enactment, shot not like a film but a mere recording, floodlit and ugly.
At 140 minutes, the running time is occasionally wearying. Jude refuses to cut away for our comfort, or strip back to the keynotes. The film is a crash course in surrounding historical theory from Arendt to Marx – at one point even Spielberg. It’s dense but mostly fascinating.
Ioana Iacob is “Barbarians”‘ powerhouse. Everything hangs on her steadfast shoulders; she steers us deftly away from intellectual haughtiness and keeps things ticking along during the more Brechtian, farcical interludes.
A lighter version of Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, “Barbarians” is disturbing, unflinching and captures enduring, latent prejudices. An experimental dive headfirst into controversy, it leaves you wondering: what would happen if more films embraced the complexity of their subject like this?
CAST: Ioana Iacob, Alexandru Dabija, Alex Bogdan, Ion Rizea
DIRECTOR: Radu Jude
WRITER: Radu Jude
SYNOPSIS: A theatre director attempts to stage a re-enactment of the events leading to the Odessa Massacre in a public square in Bucharest, causing controversy in the process.