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GoCritic! Interview: Radu Jude


- We talked to the Romanian auteur whose film ”I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” is screening in Karlovy Vary's competition

GoCritic! Interview: Radu Jude
Radu Jude at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival press conference (© KVIFF)

The moment it appears onscreen, it engraves itself irrevocable into your memory. The photograph, scuffed at the edges and dipping into the hard lights and deep shadows of early 20th century monochrome photography, shows a group of dead Romanian Jews hanging from a bar, the gallows skewing their heads off in various angles. The Romanian participation in the Holocaust cost 380,000 Jews their life. Though such facts can mainly be found in little bits and pieces scattered around the archives and history books, Romania’s collective memory often glosses over them.

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In his new feature film I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” [+see also:
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, Romanian director Radu Jude creates a visual collage of these bits of historical evidence and combines them with a fictional tale about a young artist, Mariana (Ioana Iacob), staging a re-enactment of the 1941 Odessa massacre with actors and civilians. Her efforts are met with a lot of disdain by the city officials and locals who try to rationalise the actions of the Romanian army. The film is about coming clean with the past, a point that Jude stresses when talking about the film.

The Romanian Holocaust is something you don’t really hear much about.
Yes, and then there is the fact that we don’t know how to deal with this. There was this film critic from Israel who told me, don’t ever say the film is about the Holocaust, and I said that I never said it was about the Holocaust, it’s about the trivialisation of it. And that trivialisation happens, it’s impossible not to happen. Just look at those serious researchers of Holocaust Studies, which is already a ridiculous concept somehow. It’s problematic, to say the least, that you make a living out of that. They go to a congress and they have a speech about the massacre and the gas chambers and then they go to drink a cocktail or a beer and that’s it. Then they go home and have sex.

How much reluctance in Romania was there for this film to be made?
At the official level, and you can see this in the film as well, there is quite an acceptance of this topic. It was also one of the conditions for joining the European Union. The problem is at the grassroots level, the level of the people, where the topic is not always well received. They don’t want this to be addressed and they don’t believe that the Romanian army from 1941 was involved.

Why did you choose a female protagonist?
The world of historical re-enactments is normally dominated by men, so I wanted to have a contrast. Also, but not primarily to show an exploitation of the woman in a male dominated area. I didn’t want people to interpret the main character being the director either, saying ‘he or she is you’. If it’s a woman nobody will say it’s me.

Your protagonist works a lot with historic footage and images that often become a point of debate.
I want people to understand images as being images and not pure reality. That is the problem with images and text. Someone is reading a text or hearing the news, he immediately says, ‘Okay, this is real, this is the truth.’ Or someone sees an image and immediately says, ‘Okay, this is the reality.’ But it is not the reality, it is a filtered reality and people have to be careful on how they perceive that.

Combining the past and the present is something that you tend to do with your movies. What is the appeal to combine historic documents and modern footage?
The Italian writer Italo Calvino said, after having seen Masculin Féminin by Godard, that he considered the films of the French New Wave as historiographical films and more interesting than the simple narrative film. If a film deals with history, it should deal with something else other than the information from a history book. I liked the idea and then tried making films that connect different kinds of materials. There are a lot of elements, from photography to archive footage to literature and philosophy, that I put together in a more or less cinematic manner. You can’t do a book like that or a stage play, only cinema can create a bigger and more complex image.

You show pictures, such as those of hanged Jews, and leave them on the screen for a very long time, which naturally gives some discomfort.
What was actually more important to me was the moment when these photographs enter [the film] and how they group together with the shots before and after. One photograph for instance is shown in a scene in the military museum. Before that, there is a wide shot with the two characters looking at a photograph and behind them is the documented official history, and immediately in the next shot there is a cut to the photograph, the hidden history. You don’t find the hidden history in a museum, you have to find it in photographs or in the works of some historians, some works of art and documentaries and films.

During the show at the end you have people not really grasping what is happening in front on the stage and cheering the Romanians killing the Jews on.
We staged that, and I don’t think it is supposed to be accusing the people because you don’t know if they’re doing it for real. They enter the game. It’s like when you go to the theatre and it is an interactive theatre, you can join in. It doesn’t mean they would have joined in in a real situation. But of course, you can raise the question. It’s on the edge I hope.

This article was written as part of GoCritic! training programme.

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