Radu Jude’s “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians,” which has its world premiere Monday in Karlovy Vary Film Festival’s main competition, has ruffled as many feathers in his native Romania as the film’s central character does in the town where she is staging a historical reenactment of a chapter from the Holocaust.
In a country where many still refuse to discuss its role as a Nazi ally – in common with several others in Europe – the subject is still raw, says the writer/director. Jude, who won the best director award at the Berlin Film Festival for “Aferim!,” focusing on 19th-century life in Jewish settlements, made “Barbarians” as a co-production with France, Bulgaria, Germany and the Czech Republic. Beta Cinema is handling world sales rights.
Did you face political pressure not to explore this subject as your director character does? How did you handle that?
There was some, but less than we expected and it would take too long to describe it. What was more unexpected was that a lot of people from the crew or cast proved to be Holocaust deniers in various degrees (mostly soft), but they didn’t tell me directly, I just heard it via word of mouth.
Only one actor, an older one, made a racist and denialist rant at the casting session. Afterwards I gave him the screenplay and I expected that he’d withdraw from the project after reading it, but he didn’t and explained to me that the script doesn’t explicitly show the involvement of the Romanian army in massacres in 1941, but only “raises the question, the possibility.”
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How extensive is Holocaust denial in Romania these days and is this why you decided to take this on?
At the official level, the denial doesn’t exist anymore – I think it was also one of the conditions for joining the EU (this is why, prior to that, all the statues of Romania’s wartime leader Ion Antonescu were removed from public squares). At the level of the people, that’s something else: It exists, but I don’t know how widespread it is – quite a lot, I would say, judging from my chance conversations with people.
There’s a lot of admiration [in Romania] for Antonescu, “Hitler’s forgotten ally.” Many seem to have this nostalgia for a ruler with an “iron hand.” But there are also more and more honest books about the past, so there’s hope.
Your focus on Antonescu, who ordered massacres of Jews in Bessarabia and Bukovina, is quite enlightening, certainly.
As for my personal desire to touch on this topic, there are many reasons. I can think of two: first, I belong to a generation that was lied to – nobody told us about the dark parts of our history. Second, I didn’t want to make a Holocaust film but to find ways to make a film that brings together the present day and this dark past, with the hope that one can see the present (and the past, too) more clearly.
Your main character, the director Mariana Marin, is constantly challenged by men – were you trying to shed light on the obstacles facing women in film?
Not necessarily, but that’s a dimension that may exist in the film. I mostly wanted to confront a woman with a male-dominated area, which is the one of the historical reenactments.
You don’t often see characters in films reading extensive passages from books or watching films themselves for several minutes – what was your thinking on this?
It depends what films one watches: if you take Straub & Huillet films or the wonderful film by Ted Fendt, “Classical Period,” there’s a lot of reading in them. Then the film is structured like a collage of various things: apart from the staged story, there are a lot of quotes in the dialogue, archive footage, archive photographs, historical reenactments and some short readings (one is a text by Isaac Babel, one a small fragment from Giorgio Agamben).
It’s an approach that blends documentary elements into the narrative for you?
It was my idea that I should put in relation these things, and that by putting them together one can have access to different kinds of ideas, which will eventually be created by the juxtaposition of these things (as Bresson used to say, a film consists wholly of relationships). But maybe it’s just boring, I don’t know.
Do you write alone or pass the script to colleagues for several revisions? The creative process in “Barbarians” seems quite collective.
This film was written only by myself (with a little help with the dialogue from Florin Lazarescu), but many things are taken from various sources. And yes, I am very open to collaboration. The most important one was with Alexandru Dabija, who plays the official in the film. He is a brilliant theater director, and his questions and his proposals regarding the film and his character were extremely useful and much better than what I would have found myself.
Your Sundance-winning short, “The Tube With the Hat” focused on small-town folk who overcome incredible odds just to watch TV. Is a similar theme driving “Barbarians” and the battle to put on a simple street spectacle?
Oh, this is so weird – there could be a connection somehow. I haven’t thought about it. But there’s a difference: that short film was made in 2006, when I believed more in cinema than I do now. And that shows in the film, I think.