Opening 30 May 2019
Set in modern day Romania filmmaker Radu Jude’s satirically dark docu/drama/comedy illuminates a little-known chapter of WW II history in which military dictator Ion Antonescu ordered the Romanian troops to massacre between 25,000 and 34,000 Jews following the capture of Odessa in October 1941. Flippant and chilling words spoken in the Council of Ministers in the summer of 1941 reappear as the title of the film: “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians.” This was just the beginning of the ethnic cleansing campaign, a precursor to the Holocaust. Before the country switched to the Allies’ side in 1944, Romanians had slaughtered around 380,000 Jews, gypsies and other minorities, a horrifying number second only in ranking to the Germans. (One character cynically remarks to the other, “Why do we always come in second?”)
The film opens in front of the National Military Museum in today’s Bucharest. Theater, where director Mariana Marin (Ioana Iacob) is planning an elaborate reenactment of the 1941 Odessa Massacre as an outdoor historical pageant in front of the town hall. She spends her days casting actors, directing scenes, and testing weapons and special effects with her crew. In these rather messy, sometimes humorous, and seemingly chaotic sequences it becomes clear many of the civilian actors/extras and the city officials, represented by Movilă (Alexandru Dabija), reject Romania’s odious political history and want a redacted, sanitized patriotic spectacle to please the public. Stubbornly determined, Mariana sets out to reenact the atrocities of the Odessa Massacre in all its horror.
Though much of the film is shot in long mobile hand-held takes, Jude also includes old documentary wartime footage. Twice he films archive still photographs of the brutal massacre, everything stops in its tracks for a seemingly long time….long enough for the audience to squirm in their seats looking at the horrific photos. What should make us squirm even more is watching Mariana and her crew clinically and casually analyzing the quality of the photographs, trivializing the subject matter, the corpses.
While the film has its brilliant moments, unfortunately it is heavily weighted down with didactic, intellectual conversations. In one segment Mariana reads aloud from a philosophical essay for what seems like an eternity. Yawn. Being a very experienced filmmaker, Jude inevitably must know scholarly debate and erudite readings would not endear the film to the average moviegoer. He said in an interview at the Filmfest Hamburg he cares less and less about entertaining; he just wants his audience to leave the film reflecting about the message and act on it. (Pat Frickey)