By Ryan Keating-Lambert
This year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival winner is a highly original and unconventional story of politics and convenience of ignorance. Barbarians is a fascinating piece of modern cinema, executed with impeccable precision and superb characterisation.
Directed by talented Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude and made in co-production with the Czech Republic among others, the film sees artist Mariana (Iona Iacob) on a directorial journey leading up to her dramatic reenactment of a famous massacre in Romanian history, which doesn’t exactly paint the nation and its history in a shining light. Her raw but factual depiction of WWII history ruffles the feathers of the local government who then threaten to cancel the show unless a compromise can be reached.
Fuelled by Mariana’s passion to confront the government and the Romanian people with the darker side of their country’s history during WWII – they killed the highest number of Jews after the Nazis, the artist and political activist is the centrepiece of this absorbing, informative and engaging film.
Iacob’s performance is effortless. Mariana’s hard work and heartfelt frustration is felt throughout interweaving long takes of the director on set, trying to keep the project together and her vision alive, as well as trying to keep everyone else happy, from government officials to intolerant locals. The production boasts people of all ages and opinions, all whom are engaged in deep discussion or argument with Mariana at one point or another. Together these characters flesh out the artist’s multi-layered opinions on her nation’s history, which is sometimes brutal, and why people need to acknowledge their country’s past crimes, even if she herself sometimes questions whether it is actually for the best.
Mariana is a wonderful materialisation of the modern human, trying to navigate his/her way through a labyrinth of political ideologies and groups with convincing but polarising opinions, and do the right thing. Society today is, after all, a mess composed of denial and ignorance. Although Barbarians focuses on a very specific kind of guilt set on Romanian soil, it’s also a guilt that can be felt across almost any country with a turbulent past. Is it important to inform younger generations of the horrific mistakes our ancestors made? What good does it do us in the end? Will it prevent us from making future faults? These are just some of the questions provoked by the film.
Supporting characters from both within Mariana’s community and outside question her motivations through complex dialogue that in the beginning is sometimes hard to digest – it’s very heavy on political jargon and history. However, these confrontations are so well-executed on screen that it’s impossible not to love this film. Director Radu Jude has created a documentary-style piece that transcends the screen. It’s a spellbinding journey driven by a fantastic screenplay and powerhouse performances.
I Don’t Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians is a mouthful though, both in title and subject – it was these words, said by Romanian minister Antonescu, that began the ethnic cleansing of the country in the summer of 1941. Not everyone is going to enjoy this refreshing take on the political film. I did though, and I believe it more than deserves its Crystal Globe from Karlovy Vary. Congratulations to cast and crew.
Photos: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary