Fantastic Fest 2021- The Fragile Male Ego in “Barbarians”: Film Review

The ancient Gaeta Stone, fictionalized in Barbarians, symbolizes the essential process of death that is needed in order for a rebirth to occur. While the title of Charles Dorfman’s directorial debut seems to indicate a kind of physical perishing, Barbarians instead takes us on a blood-soaked journey through the emasculated male’s rapidly evolving psyche.

Adam (Iwan Rheon) and Eva (Catalina Sandino Moreno) are about to become the first residents of the Gateway community; a series of luxury homes built on the sacred grounds of the Gaeta Stone. With his submissive demeanor, moppy hair do, and artistic prowess, Adam fits the stereotypical definition of an emasculated man to a tee. His girlfriend, conceptual artist Eva, is the breadwinner between the couple, which only castrates Adam further.

Adam’s nonconformity to the societal attributes typically associated with masculinity bubble to the surface as the couple hosts a dinner with the social media genius of Gateway, Lucas (Tom Cullen), and his wife, Chloe (Inès Spiridonov). Lucas’ embodiment of the word machismo against Adam’s weak physical stature sparks one of the most entertainingly awkward meals to grace the silver screen this year.

However, midway through Barbarians, Dorfman decides to wholly embrace the violent genre fare that is trademark for a Fantastic Fest selection. While the film is still brutally fun, the second half lacks the verbal confrontations and uncomfortableness that made the first hour such a joy to watch.

Just like how the dinner turns its focus from fragile male egos to primal desires of sex and violence, Barbarians devolves into a brutal exercise of style over substance. What remains is still more than worth a watch, but what coule have been an expert depiction of the death and rebirth cycle of emasculation in genre cinema just slightly misses the mark.

The Silver Lining

While Barbarians is nicely paced overall, Tommy Boulding’s editing of Lucas’ live Instagram videos is particularly memorable. Boulding crops these segments so that they perfectly resemble the dimensions of a cell phone. He then sets up a split screen showing two different angles of the same scene.

This decision creates a sense of space for the audience to understand Lucas’ environment and feels like an homage to Soderbergh’s trailblazing work on Ocean’s Eleven. Whoever decides to direct a ScreenLife film (where the entire movie takes place on a computer screen) next should definitely enlist the editorial talents of Boulding.

Barbarians is coming soon to a screen near you.

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