Political Film Review #594

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. 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 

      

THEM THAT FOLLOW DEPICTS SHALLOW LIVES Why do those attending Trump’s rallies seem so eager to chant, cheer, and applaud whatever he says? That might not be the question posed by Them That Follow, but the portrayal provides the answer. Co-directed by Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, much of the film, set in rural Appalachia, demonstrates poverty among members of a community that find meaning in life only due to leadership of the local evangelical preacher, Lemuel (played by Walton Goggins).

Everyone is on the lookout for sin, and Lemuel proudly displays a large snake as if to suggest the creature in Genesis, which invited Adam to seek knowledge of good and evil, thereby losing his innocence. Indeed, the community prefers direction from the preacher, including loud chanting, to seeking knowledge that might liberate the poverty of the community.

But the main plot is about Mara (Alice Englert), whose parents have chosen a groom for her despite her love for Augie (Thomas Mann), who rejects the preacher’s control. After announcement of her engagement, her lost of virginity is revealed, but Augie confesses that he is responsible. What then happens is the weird climax of the noir film.  MH