The Nobel Prize in Literature, the South African JM Coetzee, wrote in 1980 Waiting for the barbarians, a novel that 40 years later is made into the cinema by the Colombian Ciro Guerra, the happy director of Embrace of the Serpent and Summer BirdsTapes with their own sense of visuality and narrative rhythm, which made them transcend internationally.
Waiting for the barbarians is a co-production between Italy and the United States and features, in its leading roles, Mark Rylance, the British actor who was showered with applause and awards for his role as a Russian spy in The bridge of spies – Spielberg’s film in which the tense days of the Cold War were manipulated heavily in favor of the United States, and the most media-focused, Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson.
JM Coetzee’s novel keeps its central theme very current, which is none other than a plea against the imperial methods of domination, especially the teaching hand against any possible insurgency. In its early days, Waiting for the barbarians It was related to South Africa subjected to apartheid, but, in truth, it goes beyond that geography and becomes a symbol of horror, nested within countries that advocate invasions, relying on the power of their military, economic and economic forces. policies.
The novelist himself was in charge of the script of this story that shows us the Magistrate (Mark Rylance) living in a desert territory, where his character is torn between an existential personal drama and believing himself – within the same imperial domain he represents – a defender of civilizing decorum, a kind of mediator at the center of a barbarism not located beyond the borders – as the “intelligence” force that enters the scene invading their territory tries to make him believe – but embodied by those same military and their sinister methods of repression. An interference in the forefront of which will be Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp), cold and intriguing, who resorts to methods of submission disclosed in more than one CIA manual.
As the screenwriter of the film, J. m. Coetzee renounced the inner voice of the Magistrate, an explanatory resource that is supplemented by some narrative turns that try to condense everything that happens in the novel, which is quite a lot. The film has divided the critics into two camps, while some applaud him, others reproach him for a supposed lack of intensity in that forced synthesis that does not want to leave anything out. However, the latter forget that we are dealing with a filmmaker not given to following the conventional rules of a type of dramaturgy who, every few minutes, usually resorts to schemes of «computerized emotions», in order to please a certain type of public accustomed to the continuous surprises.
With a linear narrative, and divided into four seasons of time, the film (which will be shown on our television) suffers from an important subplot of the novel, related to the love relationship that the Magistrate maintains with a massacred aborigine, fragments loaded with eroticism and complexities in the book, more mystical in the film, without maturing, in the best way, the doubts and contradictions of this man surrendered to an “enemy” of the same empire that he is representing.
Social denunciation, xenophobia, hatred of the narcissistic and conquering target over the dispossessed mestizo, all expressed, directly and without major subtleties – which the novel does have – but a sobering metaphor for the imperial methods of domination present in many places in the world, making Waiting for the Barbarians a powerful installment.