Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
Three years ago I found myself in a bar in Iaşi, Romania, talking to the screenwriter Florian Lazarescu, who co-wrote Aferim! with that film’s director, Radu Jude. I say we were talking, but really Lazarescu was talking, I mean really talking, and I listened and drank my beer. He didn’t have a beer, because Romania has extremely strict drink-driving laws, and he was going to give me a lift from the University area down to a performance hall across town where a jazz festival was going on.
I was in Romania thanks to the Fulbright Specialist Program; in Iaşi (a wonderful city with strong university and literary associations) I gave some lectures and also presented a paper at a Shakespeare conference. I mention this in order to explain how I came to be listening to the very talkative Mr. Lazarescu, who told me a great many things about the Romanian film and literary scene. (He’s also a novelist.) I mention this in order to explain why I’m writing about this now, which is that for part of our conversation, Lazarescu described, in great detail, the plot of the new film Radu Jude was making, “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians”. The film, having screened at SIFF earlier this year, will play during the upcoming week at the Beacon theater.
Lazarescu did not work on the film, but he spoke about it with such relish that he might as well have. (The screenplay is credited to Jude himself.) Lazarescu described the movie’s central narrative gambit, which involves a director (played by Ioana Iacob) trying re-stage a notorious event from Romanian history in a public square today. The pageant is meant to show the horror of the strongarm tactics of the WWII era, but when regular folks gather to witness the drama, they find themselves nostalgic for “the good old days,” or at least they nod along to the fascistic sentiments spoken by the actors. This is not what the director intended.
The film is heady, consistently inventive, and often wryly funny. There is much that surely flies over the heads of non-Romanians, but it’s playful and inventive even when you’re not picking up all the nuances. It’s also very different in form from Aferim!, which suggests that Jude has the kind of wide-ranging imagination that should be very interesting to track over the next few years.
Florian Lazarescu dropped me off at the jazz concert with time to spare. As we said goodbye he apologized for talking so much. I told him he shouldn’t apologize, that I learned more by listening than by talking, and I meant it.
Postscript: Something I wrote on Aferim! for Film Comment magazine.
Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.