I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians
Radu Jude's latest is a darkly comic, politically timely meta-drama following an idealistic theatre director preparing to stage a grand outdoor historical pageant based on 1941's Odessa massacre
How do you make art that illuminates past atrocities? How do you do so in a country that seems determined to forget such dark periods of their history? How does an artist work under censorship? These are some of the questions tackled by Radu Jude in I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, the title being inspired by a quote from Conducător Ion Antonescu that kickstarted a 1941 massacre of Jews in Odessa, and the Romanian government’s subsequent complicity in the Nazi Holocaust. The superb Ioana Iacob plays Mariana, a theatre director hired to stage a large-scale public event celebrating Romanian military history. The authorities are expecting something patriotic and valedictory, but Mariana has very different ideas.
There are times when Jude’s film threatens to be as long-winded and indigestible as its title. This is a dense examination of Romania's inglorious past and it occasionally gets bogged down in expositional talk, as it does when Mariana reads from a history book to her boyfriend over Skype. For those who stick with it, however, this is a stimulating and rewarding experience. At his best, Jude’s filmmaking is pointed, witty and dynamic (as anyone who enjoyed his 2015 feature Aferim! will attest) and this film has a cumulative power, exploring contemporary Romanian anti-Semitism and cultural amnesia through a series of long and ambitious sequences, all of which are skilfully negotiated by his exceptional cast.
It’s all building to a sensational climax, wherein Jude switches out his 16mm footage for TV-style HD images to capture the climactic presentation of Mariana’s show in a public square in Bucharest. It’s a fascinating, unsettling and hilariously audacious spectacle, one we watch slack-jawed as the assembled dignitaries and onlookers begin to understand the nature of the show that Mariana has put on for them. I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians is a potent argument for truth in art, and a provocative challenge for all nations to reckon honestly with their own history.
I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians screens at Glasgow Film Festival, Tue 26 Feb, 8pm; Wed 27 Feb, 3.15pm, both screenings at Glasgow Film Theatre