Romanian fascist leader Ion Antonescu was an enthusiastic and active anti-Semite responsible for the deaths of up to 400,000 Bessarabian, Ukrainian, and Romanian Jews and Romanian Roma.
I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians (directed by Radu Jude) tells of a present-day Romanian theatre director Mariana Marin (Ioana Iacob) producing an outdoor event dramatically retelling the nature of the 1941-1944 Antonescu dictatorship. Romania’s right has been whitewashing Antonescu, especially since the fall of the Stalinist Ceaușescu regime in 1989. The title of the film is a verbatim quote from a 1941 briefing by Antonescu justifying the mass murder of Jews.
Mariana has a hard job of it, on the one hand keeping the amateur extras happy and negotiating with Movilă (Alexandru Dabija), representing the local council, which is funding the event. Several participants are unhappy with the way in which they see Antonescu and his regime being portrayed; some older ones even object to working alongside Roma actors. But Mariana battles on to achieve her vision. And indeed Ioana Iacob brings a naturalness and objectivity to her role that is exceptional.
Marina persists in discussing intense issues such as comparative trivialisation (of who’s been worse mass murderers, for example) with Movilă to avoid the censorship he threatens; she than has to shift gear to bat away reactionary complaints from extras (sometimes in fiery fashion). Tired of all this, however, Traian (Alex Bogdan), the actor playing Ion Antonescu (see illustration above) at the event, persuades Mariana to agree a cunning scheme circumventing Movilă’s fear of a public display of past Romanian barbarism. So Traian and a cohort of battle reenactment enthusiasts rehearse an anodyne version, but the actual performance is something else. The response from the public is not pretty.
This is a film more about today’s rise of right wing populism than the historical record. And in this the success of the work has both a positive and a negative aspect, much as Mariana’s expectations. She does after all function somewhat as our surrogate. Right wing populism does not come out of nowhere, of course, and is historically coded, building on fantasies of past purity (e.g. Romania, Hungary) or empire, as expressed by Britain’s right wing Tories and the far right Ukip. This film shares characteristics of critiques of the origins of these reactionary ideologies, albeit in subtle filmic terms.
I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History As Barbarians screened at the London Film Festival in October 2018.