Film Review: I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, by Oana Ghera

I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, Radu Jude’s latest film focuses on the efforts of a theater director (Mariana Marin, played by actress Ioana Iacob) to stage a historical reenactment of the Odessa Massacre – one of the most infamous episodes in Romania’s modern history, when Romanian soldiers tortured and brutally killed tens of thousands of Jews – despite the tension within the group of actors she works with and the harassment of a city hall clerk who gets involved as a censor (Movilă, played by theater director Alexandru Dabija).

Stylistically, the film is heavily influenced by Jean Luc Godard’s post ’68 films, from the Brechtian style of the actress’s introduction to the audience at the beginning of the film, including both her real name and the character’s, just as in Deux ou trois choses que je sais d’elle, to the chromatic scale dominated by primary colors or the pop-art wardrobe of the protagonist.

In the same manner, emerges the strongly self-reflective and meta-discursive nature of the film, enriched by the most diverse quotes, historical data and statistics taken out from official documents, skillfully embedded in the character’s speeches, as well as visually, through countless trade pieces placed here and there in the decor as footnotes to which the viewer is invited to come back later.

All these references also reveal a concern in dealing with the topic with strictness and accuracy, shown by both Mariana Marin, the director in the film, and Radu Jude, the director of the film. Unlike Mariana, Jude’s approach is a playful one, so within the same sequence an exchange of lines abounding in documented references can often alternate with burlesque moments or street humor (from the appearance in the middle of a sequence of a man dressed in a dog plush suit to jests and more or less dirty jokes).

The main issue of the film is brought in an insidious way, through the refined and brisk rhetorical ping-pong of confrontations between Mariana and Movila (invoking names such as Hannah Arendt, Elie Wiesel, Walter Benjamin, Ludwig Wittgenstein or Leni Riefenstahl) about the usefulness of addressing this event in national history through such a controversial reenactment (which is to criticize, not to praise, in the classical spirit of such an undertaking), and at the end of the film Movila prevails within this issue.

But their discussion is only a starting point of a much more eloquent speech about revealing through artistic means the incidents of a historical event which Radu Jude introduces in the film through several quotes, including the full reading of a story by Isaac Babel happening in Odessa, which describes the atrocities committed against the Jews by the Red Army, to which Babel, a Jew himself, witnessed when he fought in the battlefield, and the two photographs of anti-Semitic massacre victims upon which the camera stops during the film. Another quote is the end sequence in the film Mirror, directed by Sergiu Nicolaescu, which is played out by Mariana as a “hagiography” of Marshal Antonescu, and for good reason.

An enlightening, almost educational scene, is where Mariana meets the editor (Dana Bunescu playing herself) and talk about the soundtrack and the possibility of introducing a stock video of another massacre as an illustration of the events during the Odessa Massacre, which Dana declines for ethical reasons, but on a meta-discursive level, it seems that Jude uses this scene to give us the opportunity to watch a depiction of the Odessa massacre according to historical sources (where no such records were found).

Two other quotes address the ethics of depiction in the film, the introduction of the book Believing is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography) written by the documentarian Errol Morris who explores the relationship between historical / documentary truth and photography, which Mariana has in her hand in the first scenes, and Richard Raskin’s A Child at Gunpoint, a work of reference on the concept of staged photography, whose cover artwork (a photograph taken in the Warsaw ghetto) is given as an indication by Mariana to an extra child (though it was clear that it had no documentary connection to the event she re-enacted).

All these quotes, remarks and references seem to revolve around the same fundamental questions: what are we talking about when we address realism in art and how much can the truth be approached in an artistic portrayal?

Film Review by Oana Ghera

English Translation by Andreea Toader

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