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Resistance and Humanity: The Story of Romanian Peasants in ‘Barbarian’

Barbarian- A Synopsis

“Barbarian” is a 2020 Romanian-German historical war film directed by Radu Jude. The movie is set in a small Romanian village called Sibiu, which was under the Nazi regime during the Second World War.

The movie revolves around the life of a young peasant, Emanuel (Lucian Ifrim), who is wrongly accused of stealing cows and is deported to a forced labour camp by the Nazis along with other villagers. Emanuel becomes increasingly disillusioned by the oppressive regime and hatches a plan to resist it.The movie “Barbarian” offers a unique perspective on the Holocaust as it explores the experiences of Romanians living under Nazi control during the Second World War.

The movie’s central theme is the struggle of the Romanian peasants and their resilience in the face of inhumane treatment. Plot:

Set in Sibiu, Romania, under Nazi control, the movie follows the story of Emanuel, a poor peasant who is falsely accused of stealing cows.

He, along with his fellow villagers, is forcibly deported to a labour camp. Emanuel quickly realizes the horrors of the regime and forms a plan to fight back.

The plot gives an insight into how these ordinary people were victims of persecution and how they resisted the oppressive rule through various means. The Characters:

The movie’s strong point is its character development.

The characters are multi-dimensional and complex, with unique backstories. Emanuel is a prime example of a compelling character as his growth from an innocent peasant to a fearless leader is remarkable.

Other characters such as Kovacs, a privileged farmer, and Zelmira, a gypsy woman, add depth to the storyline. Themes:

The movie delves into several significant themes such as injustice, resistance, and humanity.

It realistically portrays the hardships and discrimination faced by the Romanian peasants under the Nazi regime. The movie’s portrayal of the resistance movement is fascinating, as it shows how these ordinary people took a stand against the oppressors.


The movie’s cinematography is noteworthy, as the director has employed a naturalistic style that provides an authentic representation of the era. The use of hand-held cameras and long takes creates a sense of immersion, allowing the audience to connect with the characters.


“Barbarian” is a remarkable movie that provides an insight into the experiences of Romanians living under Nazi control during the Second World War. The movie’s realistic portrayal of the oppression and resistance is commendable.

The compelling characters, thought-provoking themes, and excellent cinematography make Barbarian a worthwhile watch. Barbarian is an emotional and gripping tale that portrays the harsh reality of life under Nazi occupation in Romania during World War II.

Apart from the central plot that follows Emanuels journey from a peasant to a great leader, the movie touches upon various themes and characters that add to its depth.

One of the most significant themes that the movie portrays is humanity.

The movie depicts how even during times of extreme suffering and injustice, the human spirit of empathy and compassion can shine through. This is evident throughout the movie, through the characters of Emanuel and Zelmira, who help others even in dire situations.

Emanuel, despite his own struggles, is always willing to help his fellow prisoners, while Zelmira, who comes from a different ethnic background, is kind to others regardless of their status or ethnicity. These small acts of kindness in the midst of extreme cruelty create a sense of hope throughout the movie, and emphasizes the value of compassion in difficult times.

Another important theme in the movie is the concept of resistance. The film highlights how even in the face of oppression, people can find the courage to resist it.

The Romanian peasants in the movie, who have no formal military training or strategic organisation, use whatever means they can to fight back against the Nazi regime. Whether it is through sabotage, providing information to the resistance outside the camps or simply refusing to follow orders, the peasants show that even the smallest acts of rebellion can make a difference.

This message is made even more powerful by the fact that it is based on real events that happened during the war. The movie also sheds light on the role of various social factors like class and ethnicity in the context of the Nazi occupation of Romania.

The character of Kovacs, a wealthy landowner, is shown to be collaborating with Nazis, highlighting the power dynamics that existed in Romanian society at the time. The character of Zelmira, who is of Romani origin, experiences a double marginalisation: she is oppressed by both the Nazis and the Romanian majority.

These subplots help to add depth to the film, showcasing the complex nature of life during the war. Finally, the movie offers a visual treat through its unique cinematography.

The film is shot in a naturalistic style, using long takes and hand-held cameras, which provides a highly immersive experience to the audience. The director, Radu Jude, avoids using any kind of auto-fictional framing, allowing the audience to fully immerse themselves in the story and feel the emotions of the characters.

In conclusion, Barbarian is a heart-wrenching and thought-provoking movie that offers a unique perspective on life during the Nazi regime in Romania during World War II. Through its complex characters, themes, and realistic portrayal of the resistance movement, the movie offers a valuable insight into a dark chapter of history.

With its excellent cinematography and powerful performances, Barbarian is a visual treat that should not be missed. The production of Barbarian was a challenging but rewarding process, as the filmmakers aimed to create a realistic and authentic portrayal of Romania during World War II.

From casting to location scouting, the movie’s production team paid significant attention to detail to ensure the film looked and felt as authentic as possible. One of the most remarkable things about the movie’s production was its use of locations.

The filmmakers chose multiple locations in Romania, which added to the film’s realism. The different locations captured the beauty of Romanian landscapes, but also showcased the devastation of the region during war-time.

The locations used for the movie included the historic Sibiu city, where the film was primarily shot, and other locations across the countryside. Such locations helped in depicting the atmosphere of the war-time era, and the dangers the peasants faced amidst the conflicts.

The authenticity of the movie was also reflected in the costumes and props used in the movie. Special attention was paid to making the costumes look accurate, with the clothes reflecting the daily clothing of the farmers and laborers at the time.

The props were also carefully crafted to look in line with the period, with careful research being carried out on the technological advancements of the time.

Additionally, the action scenes and special effects in the movie were well-executed, making the movie an immersive visual experience.

The fight scenes and moments of resistance in the movie were choreographed to look as realistic as possible, without compromising on safety. The use of practical effects, such as pyrotechnics, added a level of realism to the action scenes.

The production team also paid attention to the soundtrack of the movie, working with the composer to create a score that enhanced the movie’s atmosphere and emotion. The movie’s score, which is a combination of traditional Romanian music and new compositions, compliments the action sequences of the movie but also adds a level of authenticity to the film’s background.

Another critical aspect of the production process was the casting process, which included an extensive search for actors who would represent the characters they play appropriately. The movie’s lead, Lucian Ifrim, was cast as Emanuel because of his ability to portray vulnerability and strength.

The rest of the cast was also chosen meticulously to represent the social hierarchy and language of the region at the time. In conclusion, the production of Barbarian was carried out with a focus on authenticity and realism.

From scouting the perfect locations to crafting accurate costumes, the production team paid close attention to every detail to ensure the movie’s historical background was appropriately reflected. The close attention to detail from the film’s production team ensured that the movie not only captured the events of the Second World War but provided a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people amidst such difficult times.

The release of Barbarian was a significant moment for the movie industry, as it shone a light on the struggles of Romanian peasants during the Second World War. The movie, which premiered at the Venice Film Festival, garnered positive reviews, showcasing the film’s strong storyline, cinematography, and the portrayal of its characters.

The timing of the films release was critical, as it came at a point in the world when there is a growing need to educate people about the atrocities of the World War II era. After its premiere at the festival, the movie went on to have a successful theatrical release in Romania and other European countries.

This was made possible by the partnership of several production companies, including Micro Film and Ada Solomon, who worked tirelessly to get the movie to various international markets. The movie was also released through streaming services, like Netflix, making it available to audiences across the globe.

The movie’s release created a buzz, especially amongst historians and film enthusiasts. It was praised for both its historical accuracy and its storytelling, making it a must-watch movie for anyone interested in World War II-era movies.

The use of naturalistic style cinematography and the movies dramatic backdrop garnered the interest of audiences across the world. Furthermore, the movie received critical acclaim from various publications.

It won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlinale International Film Festival, cementing Barbarian’s reputation as a powerful and insightful piece of cinema. The movie’s success in the film festival circuit also opened doors for the crew, especially Radu Jude, the director, who went on to receive multiple offers from various production houses across the globe.

The movie’s release also had a broader impact on Romanian cinema. Barbarian marked a significant moment in Romanian cinema as it was the first time that a Romanian-language movie had won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival.

This symbolized a breakthrough for Romanian cinema, which had been in the industry for several decades but struggled to gain international recognition. With the success of Barbarian, it was evident that Romanian cinema had taken a significant step forward, and even today, it continues to produce quality films that cater to both domestic and international audiences.

In conclusion, the release of Barbarian marked a critical moment in the movie industry, increasing awareness of the experiences of Romanian peasants during World War II. The film’s critical acclaim and success in the festival circuit not only showcased the creative talents of the movie’s production team but opened the door for future films from Romania to receive wider recognition.

The release of the movie proved that movies rooted in history continue to have a place in the world of cinema and can educate audiences about real-world events that happened in the past. The soundtrack of Barbarian is a unique and powerful aspect of the movie, setting the tone for the historical period and the movie’s emotion.

The soundtrack reflects and compliments the movie’s grounding in Romanian history. The music draws heavily from traditional Romanian music, integrating it with modern styles and utilizing instruments that are unique to Romania.

The movie’s music was composed by Ctlin Cristuiu, who was intentional about creating an original score that would blend seamlessly with the movie’s visuals and dialogue. The composer made use of the ambal, a traditional Romanian instrument, which added a local touch to the score, making it distinctive and representative of Romanian musical culture; this made the music an integral part of the movie’s location.

Another important aspect of the soundtrack was the use of original compositions that reflected the era when the movie was set. The songs, written and performed by various Romanian musicians, were carefully chosen to reflect the emotions of the movie’s characters, especially during scenes of rebellion and conflict.

They also added a layer of authenticity to the film, as traditional music was an essential part of Romanian life during the Second World War. The use of music in the film also acted as a subplot, reflecting the division and hierarchy of Romania during the Second World War.

The music played by the privileged character Kovacs, a wealthy farmer who collaborates with the Nazis, was more sophisticated and western-inspired than the traditional Romanian music played by the peasants. This hinted at the privilege and class divide that existed in Romanian society at the time while driving home the movie’s local musical culture.

The soundtrack was also essential in contextualizing the atmosphere and mood of the movie. From sombre and melancholic tunes to uplifting and cheerful folk songs, the soundtrack was evocative of the various emotions portrayed throughout the movie.

It played a critical role in the audiences’ sensory experience, enhancing the dramatic effect of the story, and contributing to its historical accuracy at the same time. In conclusion, the soundtrack of Barbarian adds an essential layer of authenticity and depth to the film.

Through the original compositions and traditional Romanian music, the music provided a sense of local roots and history, drawing the viewers into the world of the Romanian peasants under Nazi occupiers. Adding a more emotional and personal touch to the movie, the music reflects the pains, struggles, and triumphs of ordinary people at a challenging time in history.

In conclusion, Barbarian is a remarkable movie that offers a unique perspective on the experiences of Romanians living under Nazi control during the Second World War. The film’s realistic portrayal of oppression, resistance, and humanity, is complemented by its excellent cinematography and powerful performances.

The movie’s production and release also showed how effective attention to detail and authenticity can be in creating a successful historical movie. Barbarian serves as a reminder of how important it is to remember history and to honor the stories of those who have suffered in conflicts.


Q: What is the plot of Barbarian? A: Barbarian follows the story of a young Romanian peasant, Emanuel, who is falsely accused of stealing cows and deported to a forced-labor camp during Nazi occupation.

Q: What themes are explored in the movie? A: The movie explores several themes, including oppression, resistance, humanity, and social hierarchy.

Q: How was the movie’s authenticity achieved? A: The authenticity of the movie was achieved through careful attention to detail in areas such as location, costumes, music, and character casting.

Q: What impact did the movie have on Romanian cinema? A: Barbarian marked a breakthrough for Romanian cinema, paving the way for international recognition and acclaim for future Romanian films.

Q: Why is the movie significant? A: Barbarian offers a unique glimpse into the experiences of Romanian peasants during the Second World War while also emphasizing the importance of resistance and humanity in times of hardship.

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