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

A FILM TITLE I DO NOT CARE IF WE GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS BARBARIANS ?

That’s right. There is a film with such a title. In 1941, the same words were spoken during a meeting of the Council of Ministers of the government of Romania. The words were used to galvanize support for a decision to order the Romanian military to kill Jews in the hundred thousands as the country became an ally of Nazi Germany. After the war, Romania became a puppet of the Soviet Union, which ended when Russia withdrew from the Soviet Union in 1991.

But why a movie with that title? Although the Holocaust is taught in German public schools, Romanian director Radu Jude decided to remind his country of the massacre, which has faded from public memory.

The story revolves around a fictional artistic director, Mariana played by Ioana Iacob), who gains state approval to stage a re-enactment in the square opposite an impressive public building. Yet the re-enactment occurs at the end of the film. Most of the 68 minutes of the movie are devoted to the enormous difficulty that the director encounters in bringing the re-enactment to life.

Biases of various sorts emerge from the “extras,” her close acquaintances, and from a professorial city official, Movilă (Alexandru Dabija) who has been assigned by the town mayor to ensure that the production will not raise too many hackles with the major. The conversation between the two is highly intellectual, with references to Hannah Arendt, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and others as well as historical events about now-forgotten massacres. Movilă seems not to understand why Romanians should take responsibility for killing Jews even more brutally than Hitler, and he cautions that there might be a political backlash. Yet Marian’s reason increasingly becomes clear—to identify lingering prejudice in the country that might resurge. When the re-enactment is staged, Movilă’s worst fears do not appear, as the audience enjoys the production more than the message. But then Mariana realizes that the Romanian audience displays little empathy for the Jews and that her hope to make an important political statement has failed. The Political Film Society, nevertheless, has nominated I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians for two awards—best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2019.  MH