You might be wondering why there are quotation marks around the long-winded title of Radu Jude’s sixth feature, “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians,” which won the Crystal Globe at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival this weekend. The title is a direct reference to words spoken during a 1941 meeting of Romania’s Council of Ministers, an event that led to the murder of tens of thousands of Jews on the eastern front. In Barbarians, Jude revisits this tragic episode through the story of a theater director who intends to restage it, and judging from Jessica Kiang’s review in Variety, the results are worthy of the festival’s top prize. “Clocking in at an unwieldy 140 minutes,” she writes, “Jude’s extraordinary opus can be overly didactic and unapologetically intellectual at times, but it is also startling—a provocative, sarcastic, and momentous act of interrogation between the past and the present that escalates to an impasse, with the hands of each locked around the neck of the other.”
Jude worked as an assistant director for Cristi Puiu on The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), the exemplary film of the Romanian New Wave, but he has, as Rory O’Connor puts it at the Film Stage, “managed to operate just outside the main spotlight of his gilded colleagues, occasionally departing from their stark contemporary realism while always sharing in their brand of gallows humor.” While other Romanian directors have spent the past decade or so honing their personal styles, Jude has seemed more open to experimenting with a number of different forms. His recent features include Aferim! (2015), a black-and-white comedy set in the early nineteenth century with occasional nods to the generic conventions of the western; Scarred Hearts (2016), an episodic adaptation of works by Romanian writer Max Blecher marked by static master shots and a boxy aspect ratio; and The Dead Nation (2017), a documentary comprised primarily of glass-plate photographs from the 1930s and ’40s. In the past two years, Jude has also begun working in the theater, directing film-to-stage adaptations of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.