I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians is a darkly comedic new satire from Romanian writer-director Radu Jude with some very interesting things to say. That said, the meta elements and complex narrative structure are likely to put off all but the most dedicated cinephiles who are willing to dig deep to find the appeal of this film.
The title of the movie comes from a speech given by the Romanian dictator during WWII, and basically spells out the message of the film. The movie centers around the idea of an image being defined by the past, rather than the present. One of the primary questions posed by the film is whether or not it is our duty to immortalize the past, even those less than desirable aspects of our history, so that future generations can learn from our mistakes. However, nearly two and a half hours aren’t needed to answer this question.
The premise behind this movie is very interesting — a theatre director is attempting to stage a reenactment of an important but horrifying part of her country’s history and faces backlash from both her government and the public. Unfortunately, this ends up being little more than a means to an end, a device used to deliver monologues and dialogues that deliver the film’s message.
Eventually, the script starts to feel repetitive as we see the characters doing and talking about the same things over and over again. However, once we get to the actual performance, the movie isn’t much more impressive, as it feels quite anticlimactic. The film spends much of its first half building up to this show that isn’t all that incendiary, no matter what happens on stage.
Additionally, the movie has a hard time developing its characters. The protagonist, Mariana, is not someone with whom you can easily connect. Although her story as an artist trying to get her work performed without censorship is compelling, she doesn’t feel like a real person. Rather, she feels like a representative for a mindset, and as a result, the character feels cold and distant.
Ioana Jacob does a good job in her leading role, bringing a level of fierceness and aggressiveness to the character that matches the overall tone of the script, but nobody else in the cast is particularly memorable. This is likely more a result of the fact that none of the other characters in the film are well-developed, but regardless, all of the performances feel like they lack nuance.
The movie is also underwhelmingly straightforward on a technical level. For much of the film, the emphasis is on the dialogue rather than the visual storytelling, and this quickly becomes monotonous. In the second half of the movie, during the actual performance, the camera starts to become more important, but it seems like the film then gets too caught up in the technical side of things to be satisfying. Jude could never find that nice balance between the two.
With I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, Radu Jude has some interesting things to say, but sadly, the overindulgent nature of the movie doesn’t do it any favors. There is definitely a lot of good here — it just may not be as visible to the inattentive eye.
I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians is now playing in select theaters.