I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians

An army officer in front of a burning building

In I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians (originally Îmi este indiferent daca în istorie vom intra ca barbari), Romanian auteur Radu Jude takes on the his country’s treatment of the Jews in the Second World War, as part of Hitler’s Final Solution. The title comes from a speech made by Romanian leader Ion Antonescu in 1941, which effectively initiated the campaign of mass murder on the Eastern Front. Romania was allied with the Nazis at the time.

Ioana Iacob stars as a stand-in for Jude, playing Mariana, a Romanian director attempting to put on a show about Romanian wartime atrocities and getting pushback at every turn.

Researching the uniforms worn, the people involved and how events played out, Mariana digs through the archive, unearthing unpleasantness at every turn. When Mariana happens across a picture of dead Jews hanging from nooses or piled up in the street, Jude keeps the camera locked on it so we can fully take in what it represents, and then keeps the camera there for a discomfiting while longer.

Jude’s movie has these shock moments but it’s also an intensely verbal experience, a long wrangle about whether some things should just be left to vanish into history, or whether good can come from opening old wounds. This is most explicit in its central section – the visit from the money man Movila (Alexandru Dabija) to rehearsals, and his long, long conversation/argument with Mariana in which he runs through all the reasons why Mariana should abandon the project or at least tone it down.

It needs to be said, argues Mariana, because it’s the truth. Ah, but whose truth, and what is truth anyway, counters Movila. Anyway, it’s too violent, he objects. It’s a representation of violence, she says, real violence is something else entirely. Switching into whataboutery, he asks why this subject and not, say, the suffering Romanians endured under communism. Because everyone already knows about that, Mariana answers. Don’t people need a bit of joy in their lives? Didn’t other countries also perpetrate terrible massacres – Dresden, Hiroshima etc? And on he goes.

Iona Iacob as Mariana
Ioana Iacob as director Mariana

Jude does it all Aaron Sorkin-style – walkie-talkie West Wing-ish with the tone light and bantering – and both Iacob and Dabija play it with a light touch, beneath the veneer Movila’s veiled threat, Mariana’s steely resolve.

Movila’s concerns, his questions and his objections are all answered by the rest of the film. Romanian peasant extras won’t work with the gypsies. There’s a discussion between Mariana and her crew as to which of the people playing Romanian soldiers look “evil” – because normal Romanians would never have committed these atrocities, right? – leading up to the performance itself, in front of the Royal Palace of Bucharest, where Mariana’s re-enactment includes some severe Jew-baiting by the church, the army and the Romanian establishment followed by scenes of Jews being burned alive in a re-enactment of one particular atrocity.

Jude stages this re-enactment for real, in front of an actual 21st-century crowd, and it’s the crowd’s reaction that actually is the most memorable thing about the film. What Mariana was expecting (but Jude clearly wasn’t) was for the crowd to be shocked and for the scales to fall from their eyes as the scale of Romanian complicity in wartime Nazi crimes becomes clear. What she gets is something else entirely. Her entire project has failed, spectacularly, but Jude’s film, in the same remarkable (if grim) moment, triumphs.

At 2 hours 20 minutes, I Do Not Care… seems a bit long until it hits its home straight. But everything clicks into place as the final act plays out. To all the questions raised by Movila, it’s Mariana who turns out to be right. And as to his suggestion that she make a show about the bad times of the Ceausescu era, that’s exactly what Jude did in his next feature, Uppercase Print.

I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

Emilia in face mask

If the prolific Romanian director Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn does nothing else, it wins its lead actress an award for bravery. Its opening scenes feature Katia Pascariu in full-on sex with her screen husband, the pair of them putting it all on tape – her swinging tits, his erect cock, her back end, her entreaties for him to stick it in etc. Pascariu was last seen, high irony, playing a nun in Cristian Mungiu’s bleak 2012 drama Beyond the Hills.

What neither the fully consensual Emilia (Pascariu) nor Eugen know is that the strictly-for-home-consumption “tape” is going to wind up on PornHub, and stay there, in spite of their attempts to take it down, and that Emilia’s position as a teacher in a swish school is suddenly going to become even shakier than the footage.

Jude breaks the film down into chapters, each with their own flavour. But first he dispenses with the services of Stefan Steel, the bona-fide porn star (the name’s a clue) who plays Emilia’s husband, to focus entirely on her as she meanders towards a showdown at a hastily convened parent/teacher meeting.

Part one is a jaundiced overview of modern life, like an update on Anthony Trollope’s satirical novel The Way We Live Now. Jude’s camera follows Emilia as she traipses across town, encountering aggression and skirmishes on the flanks of the culture war, across nominally public spaces that have all been colonised by private concerns like McDonald’s and KFC. Jude’s camera regularly focuses on advertising hoardings and regularly pauses on ruined public buildings, while his microphone picks up snatches of conversations heard in passing – incense being a cure for cancer, the malign influence of George Soros, fake news and conspiracy theories as evidence of a shattered public discourse.

Emilia's opponents at the parent teacher meeting
The parent-teacher meeting from hell

Part two pursues this logic even further, being not so much a narrative as a grab-bag of snippets, jottings in a liberal cineaste’s notebook, archive footage collaged together with iPhone recordings, attempting nothing less than an overarching theory of everything that’s wrong in the world, from the church and the military, to Christmas, global warming, mathematics, montage, Jesus, love and intimacy. Depending on how well disposed towards Jude you are, this can either be seen as a thoughtful disquisition on modern mores or as a playful bit of Jean-Luc Godard-style intellectual timewasting. I went with the latter, and I am hugely disposed towards Jude.

Part three is the showdown, and a return to more conventional film-making, as Emilia arrives at school and puts up a prolonged and spirited defence of herself before a hostile crowd of parents and teachers, who invoke one piece of lynch-mob logic after another in order to get the result they want. When they point out that the kids shouldn’t be watching footage of Emilia and her husband having sex, she counters with the argument that it’s the parents’ responsibility to monitor what their kids watch on their smart phones, and that in any case there is nothing wrong with a woman and her husband making love. “But not blowjobs!” shrieks one. But no matter which way Emilia turns, they keep coming back. Basically, as far as they’re concerned, she’s a liberal, a leftie, anti-patriotic, a slut, a whore.

Bizarrely, the discussion momentarily diverts into one on pedagogics, then into another one on anti-semitism and homophobia, before building towards a climax of three different endings – in two of which Emilia emerges triumphant, in one she doesn’t, and Jude throws in a couple of extra violent shocks, as he’s done before in Aferim! and I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, which manage to be both unsettling and funny. A close facsimile of Wonder Woman even makes an appearance at one point, though the official DC Extended Universe isn’t likely to endorse what she’s doing with her magic net, unless DC is suddenly an abbreviation for “dick”.

Shot during the Covid pandemic, with masks featuring throughout, it feels like something that’s been made mostly on the hoof and then assembled in a locked-down edit suite. A writer/director’s got to keep himself busy while a virus is making film-making a challenge. I look forward to Jude’s next film. This was, for all its ingenuity, a bit of a chore.

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 2021