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Friday, December 7, 2012

ROMULUS, MY FATHER -- movie review by porfle

(NOTE: This review originally appeared online at in 2007.)

Based on the true account of author Raimond Gaita's troubled childhood, ROMULUS, MY FATHER (2007) is the sort of slow, almost depressing descent into melancholy that I would normally avoid like the plague.  But there's a somewhat hynoptic fascination in watching this quiet, slow-motion train wreck of a story unfold, and the understated simplicity of its just-right ending is cathartic.

Romulus is a nice, simple guy who deserves some measure of happiness in his life that always seems just out of reach.  His nine-year-old son Raimond's a nice kid who should be happy too, but the problem is that his mother, Christina, is an irresponsible nutcase.  She disappears for long periods of time and then returns to their shack in rural Australia to pal around with Rai, sleep with Romulus, and take off again.  When she's gone, father and son do their best to get by with each other's love and support, hoping that someday she'll come back for good.

This all changes when she marries Mitru, the brother of Romulus' friend Hora, and has a baby.  Romulus continues to give them money while Raimond stays and helps care for the infant since Christina is too listless and disaffected to do it herself.  Things go from bad to worse--Mitru catches Christina joylessly boffing other men, different people start committing suicide with varying degrees of success, and, finally, Romulus goes off the deep end himself.  Through it all, Raimond must struggle to get by as everyone he depends on slips away.

This could've been a melodramatic potboiler in lesser hands, but director Richard Roxburgh (VAN HELSING's Count Dracula) keeps things real with the help of Nick Drake's well-written adaptation of Raimond Gaita's memoirs, and a strong cast.  Eric Bana brings quiet depth to the role of Romulus, while Franka Potente (RUN, LOLA, RUN) ably portrays the sad hopelessness of the doomed Christina.  The rest of the cast is fine, especially Kodi Smit-McPhee (LET ME IN) as Raimond.  The whole thing hinges on his performance, and he carries it off very well with his soulful face and ability to realistically convey strong emotion.

The story begins during an almost idyllic period in the lives of Romulus and Raimond, as they go about their peaceful lives amidst a beautifully-photographed pastoral setting in rural Australia.  When things start to go wrong, though, it's like a domino effect of relentless gloom and doom, with the filmmakers almost sadistically piling as much sorrow as possible on these poor characters.  I kept watching just to see how their lives would be screwed up next and if they'd be able to endure it. 

As it turns out, ROMULUS, MY FATHER is one of those movies where I'm not really aware of how affecting it is until the end.  I'll admit it, I almost started crying right after the fadeout--not quite, but there was a definite semi-sob.  I wasn't even sure why.  But all that unrelieved, accumulated heartache is resolved in a last underplayed moment of hope, and ROMULUS, MY FATHER ultimately left me more than a little verklempt.

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