Waiting for the Barbarians

Self-fulfilling conspiracies

The magistrate of a well-run and prosperous desert outpost of an unnamed empire is horrified at the methods used by a sadistic visiting army colonel to extract intelligence from the natives about an impending uprising. But the man knows there is no planned revolt and that the “barbarians” are not and never have been a problem. Sound familiar?

Ciro Guerra’s adaptation of Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee’s hypnotic, apocalyptic novel is clearly a metaphorical critique of certain immigration policies and the “war on terror.” And there’s room for that. But it loses points for its frequent heavy handedness in pounding home its message. And lordy, it’s languorously paced (but with flashes of brilliance).

Though Johnny Depp and Robert Pattinson are featured prominently on the poster, their roles are glorified cameos, most likely included to secure financing. No, the anchor and moral center of this uneven film, and the main reason to see it, is the excellent Mark Rylance as the ill-used magistrate. And the stunning cinematography by Chris Menges. (112 min)

Released in Japan January 29, 2021