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October 8, 2007 | by  | in Film |
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Romulus, My Father

Directed by Richard Roxburgh

I would say that there’s something in the water in Australia at the moment – except that there isn’t much water in Australia at the moment. Good films, however, abound. Last year’s film festival showed the taught, wickedly clever Last Train to Freo alongside the beautiful Ten Canoes. It also featured Ray Lawrence’s Jindabyne, which supplanted a Ray Carver short story into a modern Australian setting laced with ethical and cultural guilt.

Romulus, My Father continues this fine trend, focussing on cultural isolation and the life faced by early immigrants. Eric Bana heads the outstanding cast, playing Romulus – an Eastern European émigré raising his son Raimond (Kodi Smit-McPhee, who is almost squeamishly cute) in 1950s rural Victoria. While Romulus is the hard-working decent type, his wife Christina (Franka Potente from Run Lola Run) adapts less well. Her mental health veers dangerously close to the edge as she embarks on a series of affairs, which often end in her skulking back to Romulus’ farm in the wops several weeks later. Marton Csokas plays the dependable but fiery uncle who invariably tells Romulus what Christina gets up to in Melbourne.

The story is largely told from young Rai’s perspective. It is fascinating in its comparison of touchingly innocent cultural misunderstandings (such as when Rai’s Australian ‘Gran’ misspells his name on his birthday cake) to the more serious ones immigrants face when they tear themselves away from family and familiarity to start a new life on the other side of the world. The film is beautifully shot and paced, and somehow manages to juxtapose Australia’s stark, open beauty against Romulus’ internal struggle to make something of life in the inhospitable landscape without going crazy. Romulus is well worth two hours of your time and makes for compelling viewing alongside Tony Ayres’ The Home Song Stories (due out in December), which tells a similar story of a Chinese family moving to Australia in the 1970s. The two films share several eerie similarities – both are told from the perspective of a young boy with an unstable, adulterous mother, and both are based on true stories. And keep watching out for Australian films – chances are that another good one will come out before it next rains in Sydney.

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