WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS – Review by Susan Granger

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Pulitzer Prize-winning South African author J.M. Coetzee has adapted his 1980 novel – a cautionary tale about the sins of colonialism – into a mediocre movie.

The Magistrate (Mark Rylance) is in charge of a remote border outpost. A career diplomat, his mission is to protect the interests of the Empire against the ‘barbarians’ who wander the desert. After observing them for many years, he doesn’t view these peaceful nomadic people as any kind of threat.

Yet when there’s a minor theft, stiff-mannered Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp) is dispatched by the Bureau of State Security to investigate. Smugly sadistic, he believes in “patience and pressure…pain is truth – and that will be end of it.”

Joll’s ‘interrogation’ methodology involves such extensive and merciless torture that the Minister, a kind and gentle man, is not only horrified but also disappointed and disillusioned.

Reaching out in sympathy to a persecuted young woman (Gana Bayarsaikhan) who was crippled and blinded by Colonel Joll, the Magistrate offers her shelter and ritualistically bathes her wounds, establishing an emotional/sexual connection.

Eventually, the Magistrate offers to return her to her ‘tribe’ somewhere in the windswept desert wasteland. When he comes back to the outpost, he’s met by Joll’s sneering second-in-command, Warrant Officer Mandel (Robert Pattinson), who accuses him of being a traitor and tortures him accordingly.

Making his English language debut, Colombian director Ciro Guerra (Embrace the Serpent, Birds of Passage) and cinematographer Chris Menges (The Mission, The Killing Fields) filmed in Morocco and Italy, lending an evocative cinematic authenticity to the bleakly generic drama.

FYI: After this, his first produced script, J.M. Coetzee also adapted his 2014 novel In the Heart of the Country but it has not yet been produced.

In English and Mongolian (with English subtitles) on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, Waiting for the Barbarians is a sinister 6, a heavy-handed allegory that leaves no doubt about who the brutal barbarians really are.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.