ROMULUS, MY FATHER
Young Raimond Gaita (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is the son of Romanian migrant, Romulus (Eric Bana) and his German wife, Christina (Franka Potente), living in rural 50s Victoria. They are poor; life is complicated and painful as his mother is often absent and neglectful, but his father does everything he can to provide a loving, moral and stable environment. Even when his mother's affair with a friend of his father's Mitru (Russell Dykstra) results in a baby, Romulus does the honourable thing. Mitru's brother Hora (Marton Csokas) is also solidly supportive, especially after Christina's suicide and Romulus' breakdown. When Romulus returns from hospital, he gets another chance to help and see his son grow up.
Review by Louise Keller:
'Things change, but our life is what our thoughts make it,' Eric Bana's Romulus tells his 10 year old son Rai. Such is the philosophy of Romulus, My Father, a pensive tale of hardship, based on Raimond Gaiter's memoirs from his childhood. Beautifully shot in rural Victoria by cinematographer Geoffrey Simpson and sensitively directed by actor turned director Richard Roxburgh, Nick Drake's script is economical in its telling of a critical chapter in Rai's life, as a young immigrant child from a broken family, whose emotional and physical survival is at its lowest ebb.
Bana pares his performance to minimalist proportions as he portrays a loving father and hard-working family man who shoulders his responsibilities seriously. Leisurely told, the story is peppered with heartbreaking elements as Rai (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is confronted by situations and things no child should have to endure. Smit-McPhee has great presence in his first leading role, as the young boy who grapples not only with the complex task of fitting in as a newcomer, but having to assume adult responsibilities. Rai accepts the occasional presence of his beloved Mutti (Franka Potente) and delights in the brightness and laughter she brings on her visits. But the pendulum of brightness also swings darkly. He tells his father the family should live together all the time, but the reality of Christina's other man Mitru (Russell Dykstra) becomes all too obvious. Both Romulus and Mitru love Christina unconditionally, but life that includes two men, one woman, a child and a baby is not a winning combination. Marton Csokas is likeable as Hora, the family friend who is also part of the family.
There's a sense of isolation and loneliness as we watch Rai strum the springs under the bed, throw a stick into the misty landscape or look at the stars from the rooftop. His education is harsh as he learns ugly truths, but it is his relationship with his father that is the emotional pivot. Beautifully capturing life on the land, the film is involving and moving, although the constancy of the hardships pounds us into a rather somber mood. It's a splendid debut for Roxburgh and a haunting and inspiring tale of survival.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
It's fitting perhaps that a film based on Rai Gaita's memoirs should play rather like a string of memories; we don't remember the past in a linear story but as patches, chapters, moments, sometimes merely fractions of their entirety. So has Richard Roxburgh made his directing debut, clinging to the mood and tension of a childhood lived in a confusing mix of love and neglect, happiness and sorrow.
That Rai Gaita ended up a novelist and philosopher is hardly surprising, given the start he had in life; so much evidence of the vagaries of the human would either make him or break him. Kodi Smit-McPhee is pretty sensational as Raimond, sweet faced and sweet natured, but sharply intelligent and sensitive. His performance helps us stay with what is an often sombre, sad and Spartan film. So focused is it that we hardly sense the social, geographical or political environment; when we do, it's in snatches that provoke questions about the back story of these lives that seem to have suddenly erupted into rural Victoria. Well, they have of course, but we'd perhaps like to get a better handle on the beginnings of this story.
Beautifully shot by Geoff Simpson and edited in synch with that episodic memory structure, the film is never a ball of fun, but a serious and deeply felt evocation of a specific and vital time from childhood that will forever resonate in Raimond's heart and soul. It's challenging work for all, especially Eric Bana and Franka Potente; Bana has to do more than master an accent to deliver the persona that Raimond recalls as Romulus, and Potente has to play against type as a neglectful mother and unfaithful wife, an unstable woman who destroys two families - hers with Romulus and then the family she creates with Mitru.
Biography is a wonderful genre, and Australian filmmakers should mine it for its extraordinary treasures.
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ROMULUS, MY FATHER (M)
CAST: Eric Bana, Franka Potente, Marton Csokas, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Jacek Koman, Russell Dykstra, Veronica Sywak,
PRODUCER: Robert Connolly, John Maynard
DIRECTOR: Richard Roxburgh
SCRIPT: Nick Drake (Raimond Gaita memoir)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Geoffrey Simpson
EDITOR: Suresh Ayyar
MUSIC: Basil Hogios
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Robert Cousins
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Dendy/Footprint
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 31, 2007