Radu Jude begins his magisterial I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians with actress Ioana Iacob introducing herself to the audience, announcing the name of her character within the film, and then bidding us a cheerful “I hope you enjoy the film.” More than just a glib bit of meta-commentary, or a Brechtian gag, it is an announcement of purpose. What we are about to watch is a construct, and part of that construct is interrogating not only history but how we choose to interpret that history. Iacob plays Mariana, an artist who is attempting to stage a large-scale reenactment of a 1941 massacre of Romanian Jews at the hands of Romanian soldiers after they captured the city of Odessa on the Eastern Front. Alexandru Dabija plays Movila, a city official of some sort who is overseeing the project, and who objects to how Mariana is portraying the Romanian people as complicit in the Holocaust. A long conversation between Mariana and Movila takes up a sizable chunk of the two-hour plus runtime here, as Jude lays out his philosophical and pedagogical agenda. Movila lobs multiple rhetorical jabs at Mariana, running the gamut from questions of historical accuracy to aesthetics and finally a glib, what’s-the-point shrug, as he jokes about the rankings of historical atrocities (“No one wrote Nagasaki Mon Amour,” he quips, suggesting that only Hiroshima is truly remembered, before making a final solution joke).
Jude and cameraman Marius Panduru film scenes in snaking, flowing long takes, which follow characters around while they verbally joust; but they also lock the camera down into a stationary position, as characters read long passages of political theory either directly to the camera or to other characters situated offscreen. Jude is particularly adept at arranging bits of business in all parts of the frame, so that there is always movement in the background even as two or more characters converse in the foreground. It is of course not lost on Jude that he is marshaling huge numbers of extras and props for his film just as Mariana is for her project. There’s an important scene that shows Mariana looking at old, black-and-white newsreel footage of soldiers violently rounding up Jews. She likes the footage, in as much as it’s the sort of documentary evidence that she needs to bolster her case for the authenticity of her claims against Movila’s protests. But she realizes that the footage is from Lithuania, and has nothing to do with the actual crimes in Odessa, or involving Romanians, and that the proper course of action is to rely on the photographs she already has. She knows they are from the authentic time and place, and more importantly, that they implicate the actual participants. This is the morality of images, and the power of the filmmaker to make ethical choices, not just formal ones. Jude deeply cares about excavating this dark past, forcing viewers to confront it, and to finally, absolutely damn the barbarians who perpetrated it.
Published as part of July 2019’s Before We Vanish.