Waiting For The Barbarians 2019
Description: A Magistrate working in a distant outpost begins to question his loyalty to the empire.
The first thought many viewers will have upon seeing Ciro Guerra’s adaptation of Waiting For The Barbarians is that it’s strikingly old fashioned. Broad desert vistas, scurrying extras in the middle distance, crucial meetings framed as if on a stage, a muted colour palette and a score that takes its time to build.
It harks back to the epics of the Fifties and Sixties – but when better to tell this story than now? As the poison at the heart of empire finally becomes apparent to the general population in the places where it began, JM Coetzee’s tale resonates more strongly than ever.
Perhaps in recognition of this, the author, who wrote the screenplay himself, has reshaped it in some ways, giving it more definite form. Whilst one key relationship is less explicit than it was in the book, there is a surer sense here of finality – no more the cycle that goes on and on as it has in the past.
As the Magistrate (Mark Rylance), explains, this has consisted of periodic panics about the possibility of barbarian attacks on the frontier, followed by the dispatching of troops to deal with them, followed by a largely unnecessary show of force after which everything goes back to normal again. Normal, for him, involves settling disputes over misbehaving animals and providing the locals with medical support. But normality is fragile.