Waiting for the Barbarians

Waiting For The Barbarians
Waiting for the Barbarians
Directed by Ciro Guerra
Starring Mark Rylance, Johnny Depp, Robert Pattinson, Greta Scacchi, Gana Bayarsaikhan and Harry Melling​
Available on Digital Download from September 7th, 2020
Pre-order available here

by Amanda Farley

Waiting for the Barbarians is a depressingly relevant, if slightly uneven, modern parable. An ambitious adaption with a big budget and some serious star talent in the form of Mark Rylance, Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson.

It opens in a western-style military border outpost, part of an unnamed empire. Here a Magistrate (Mark Rylance) has for years kept benign watch over the local population until the arrival of Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp). Sent from the capital with news that a rebellion is brewing among the barbarian tribes, Joll’s investigations reveal more about the sadistic and cruel nature of the empire than anything else. His arrival disrupts the Magistrate’s bureaucratic inertia and it quickly becomes clear that justice and decency have no place in this witch hunt. Instead, enemies are manufactured to suit and the Magistrate is finally forced to confront the brutality of his own regime, and accept that torture can take many forms, even kindness.

The stand out star of this picture is Rylance. The warmth and heart he brings to his character’s subtlety holds everything together. We root for this flawed hero, hoping for an impossible happy ending. Depp, as expected, creates an eccentric, if sometimes jarring villain. It has to be said that a subtler approach could have made for a more terrifying and interesting antagonist. However, Depp’s offering is satisfying and Robert Pattinson’s casting as Joll’s almost psychotic underling adds to the overall sadistic feel of the Empire.

Directer, Ciro Guerra once again shows his poetic style merging Asian and Middle-Eastern characteristics to create an ambiguous sense of place and time. While Chris Menges’ cinematography harks back to a golden age of cinema. Dwarfed by desert and an overall sense of nothingness, this outpost is given a sense of vulnerability and impermanence. Wide sweeping shots and subtle colours add to the story’s sense of timelessness.

Adapted by J.M Coetzee, the story is divided into four parts, each marked by a season. At times the dialogue would benefit from more depth and shade and while at its heart there is a pertinent theme and message, overall this film could delve deeper into the questions it raises. As it stands it nods at, rather then fully addresses the issues.

Overall though, Waiting for the Barbarians is an enjoyable watch and somewhat perfect for the current mood.

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