Romulus, My Father is based on the popular memoir written by Australian philosopher Raymond Gaita.
The film is a tragic family drama set during several summer’s in the early 1960’s, and focuses on young Raymond (Kodi Smith-McPhee), and the chaotic relationship between his hard working Romanian immigrant father Romulus (Eric Bana) and his adulterous and suicidal immigrant German mother Christina (Franka Potente), which culminates with Romulus’ descent into madness.
Acclaimed Australian actor Richard Roxburgh shines in his feature film directorial debut, unflinchingly taking on heavy themes such as depression, mental illness and suicide, whilst also capturing a touching love story between an ailing father and his able young son.
The films talented cast is superb. Eric Bana (himself a child of European immigrants) gives a powerfully subdued turn, and Franka Potente delivers a strong performance effectively portraying her characters fragility and brash sexuality.
Marton Csokas and Russell Dykstra are great in supporting roles, yet it is 11 year old Kodi Smit-McPhee who steals the show with a tremendously impressive performance, standing toe to toe with his experienced co-stars whilst exhibiting a broad range of emotions not natural for an actor his age.
The film is set and shot in amid the vast open spaces of rural Victoria, its picturesque imagery captured magnificently by Geoffrey Simpson who provides lush, vibrant photography. Adding to the haunting effect of the films performances and imagery is Basil Hogios’ emotive acoustic guitar composition.
The biggest flaw is its meticulous pace, but with such a rich character piece a slow burn approach is needed to truly appreciate the characters’ complexities and the beauty of their widespread surroundings.
Another filmmaker would have added a narrator to keep the films momentum at a steady register, yet thankfully Roxburgh does away with such cliché nonsense, relying on the talent of his cast and crew and Raymond Gaitor’s moving story to see it through.