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Waiting for the Barbarians Review

The Buff and The Blazer August 22, 2020 409

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Waiting for the Barbarians: Extreme Artistry

Waiting for the Barbarians is the epitome of cinematic art. Ciro Guerra’s 2020 film borrows from classic epics. Most films in the modern era are quick to utilize CGI. While the technology is helpful in many cases, it lacks a tangible quality. Even though the story and place are fictional, there is an authenticity about Guerra’s film that makes it feel historical. A rich set design, exotic locations, and stunning cinematography bring art and realism together.

Filling the Scene
Mark Rylance Waiting for the Barbarians

One of the most notable qualities of Waiting for the Barbarians is the richness of its sets. Every scene contains visual elements that enhance the setting, or the characters. One of the best examples is the Magistrate’s quarters. The room has various trinkets and artifacts that tell you a little bit more about the character. Writing tools, magnifying glasses, ancient texts, and many other artifacts tell you the world interests him.


The exterior designs are also beautiful. The artistry of the buildings conveys a sense of age and ruggedness of a town on the frontier. The exterior design also offers a sense of heavy occupation. It appears that people have been living in the town for a fair amount of time. There is a “lived-in” quality to it. Night scenes add another dimension to the visuals as the dim lighting emphasize the isolation of the town in the dark chasm of the empire.

Scenery for Miles
Colonel Holl

Many of the scenes in Waiting for the Barbarians feature real locations. Filmed mostly in Morocco, the landscapes are vast and exotic. The film opens in a barren desert landscape with snow-capped mountains in the background. The contradictory visual elements complement the nuance of the story. The desert also serves as another character in the story. It is difficult to control and swallows up the town. It also brings out fear from people of power within the empire. Overall, the locations in Waiting for the Barbarians are reminiscent of those found in Lawrence of Arabia. The locations emphasize the beauty and vastness of the frontier.

Cinematic Artistry
Waiting for the Barbarians

The most striking element of Waiting for the Barbarians is the film’s masterful cinematography. Every shot is visually appealing. The camera maintains focus on key characters, but also utilizes the surrounding imagery. As a result, even the simplest shots maintain an element of richness. Extreme wide shots that capture the barren landscapes mimic the visual style of John Ford. Those shots give the film its epic qualities without relying on elaborate action set pieces. The cinematography combined with real locations and intricate set design showcase an extremely high level of artistry. Ultimately you get a deep character study that has the look and feel of an epic blockbuster.

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