At just around midnight in the capital of Romania, film producer Ada Solomon got a call that threatened the life of her entire movie. Her docu-drama depicting a reenactment of one of the worst atrocities in Romania’s history was going to be shut down by the town’s vice mayor. And there was nothing she could do to stop it.
“I had, for one hour and a half, in the middle of [Revolution Square], the most horrible discussion I ever had in my life,” Solomon told TheWrap’s Steve Pond at a Q&A on Thursday following a screening of “I Do Not Care If We Go Down In History as Barbarians,” a film about the 1941 mass murder of tens of thousands of Jews on the Eastern Front by Romanian forces.
“Barbarians,” Romania’s entry into the Oscar foreign film race, follows theater director Mariana (Ioana Iacob) as she prepares a reenactment that will hopefully bring awareness to a truth not many Romanians have come to terms with, according to Solomon. Before Romania fought against Germany in World War II, the country worked alongside Germany to advance their ethnic cleansing agenda. Romanians who acknowledge that fact are chastised for being unpatriotic.
During that fateful night of shooting, Solomon and director Radu Jude immediately presented all their papers and permits stating they were allowed to film in the heart of Bucharest. But it wasn’t the proof that got the vice mayor to bite. In fact, it was a misunderstanding that saved the movie.
“You don’t have to thank me,” the vice mayor told her after letting them resume filming. “If this wasn’t a film about [former Romanian Prime Minister Ion Antonescu], you wouldn’t have the permit”
Except it wasn’t about Antonescu at all. At least not in a good way. In 1946, Antonescu would go on to be charged for war crimes due to his involvement with Nazi Germany and the mass murder of Jews.
“It’s a kind of injustice with the lack of education about this,” Solomon told the audience at the Landmark Theatre. “This is a white page in the history book. The debate has to be there.”
The dissonance between what happened and what Romanians are led to believe has resulted in people in the other countries that have screened the film (“Barbarians” has premiered in France, Belgium and Canada, among others) to relate with the corrective history going on.
“I don’t remember what I’ve learned,” Romanian-born actress Iacob told the audience about learning of the massacre in high school. “Maybe it was one page in the history book. If you weren’t there for the lesson, you wouldn’t have known it.”
Aside from directing, Jude also penned the script. Solomon said Jude always had someone like Iacob in mind to play the lead role, wanting “a feminine figure to oppose the world of men.”
Mariana is depicted in the film as someone constantly negotiating with men trying to flirt their way into getting what they want. But Mariana always pushes back.
During a lengthy scene between Mariana and a city official, played by actor Alexandru Dabija, for example, Mariana has to fight to keep her theatrical production uncensored while also dodging the official’s attempts to compliment her into submission. The same can be seen with Mariana’s intimate relationship with an older pilot, a married man with whom she’s having an affair. Mariana informs him at one point that she is pregnant with his baby. During one spat, the pilot implores her that it is her duty to abort the baby so he doesn’t get in trouble.
She doesn’t budge.
Iacob came in for a one-on-one audition with Jude for the role of Mariana. From that moment, Iacob fell in love with the character and the story Jude was trying to tell.
“I read the pages for the casting sessions, and I couldn’t stop,” Iacob said.
After getting everyone on board, the production took 22 days. It was a quick shoot, sure, but not one without its dissenters. Solomon described getting scathing messages from Romanians asking “How dare they” and that they were “bad Romanians.”
But Jude and Solomon always kept going, believing the film would become “a cultural product” that could help people understand why it’s important to acknowledge the event happened.
“We are not politicians. But we are using our tools — the art — to express how we feel about the world around us,” Solomon said.
So does Solomon think the Bucharest vice mayor has seen the film he so abruptly detested on that late night?
“I doubt it,” she joked.