Romulus, My Father

We checked out Romulus, My Father the other night.  When we first turned it on, we were a bit hesitant. I remember hearing from my brother that he hated the movie, and also from him that my mother thought it was beautiful. My wife was confused at first because she assumed the movie was taking place in ancient Rome.  Turns out instead it all takes place in country Australia, and deals with European immigrants in the 1960’s. 

I’d bought it sort of randomly in Thailand, and so most of the cover copy was in Thai and therefore not understandable to us.  All we could identify were the title, the credits, and the tagline: “The Bond Between a Father and His Son Can Never Be Broken.”  More on that in a moment.

It’s a slow story, and took us a while to figure out, not so much what was going on, but more where in the midst of these moments with these various characters the story actually was.  It’s a movie that feels like it’s made up of a series of poignant silences.  The characters do talk, but you find you are taking in the events not by what they say as much as by just watching what they do.

Of course, that’s a potentially positive cinematic quality.  And there is a lot to appreciate about the movie.  It’s visually impressive, it’s emotionally rich, and it’s full of good performances.  Eric Bana is good as Romulus, and Kodi  Smit-McPhee is great as his son Rai (whose real life memoir the film is based on).  Franka Potente is especially impressive as Romulus’ beautiful but immature wife Christina.  Up until this point, I’d only known her as the too cool for anyone heroine in Run, Lola, Run, as in decreasing roles in each subsequent Bourne movie, but here she really demonstrates her ability to bring an emotionally damaged woman to life.

In spite of all these positive qualities, the film is sort of dull, .  I don’t just mean because of a lack of aliens or superheros, but just because the style kept me detached from the characters and their situations.  On top of that, it’s pretty depressing, and never really lives up to its tagline.  Rather than showing us that the bond between father and son was unbreakable, I ended up feeling like it was really all these characters had left.  So the heavy but disconnected feeling of the movie threatened to lead us to turn the movie off.  But we kept going, and in the end we did appreciate it.  Like I said, a lot of it improves in memory.  But the end result is a movie that I appreciate having watched more than a film I enjoyed watching.

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