Sunday 7 September 2008


“The father who does not teach his son his duties is equally guilty with the son who neglects them.” – Confucius

Continuing on the theme of Fathers’ Day in yesterday’s blog, I am reviewing an Australian movie we watched at the weekend, “Romulus, My Father” (2007), by director Richard Roxburgh. The movie is based on the autobiographical book of the same name by author and philosopher, Raimond Gaita. Romulus Gaita fled his home in Yugoslavia at the age of thirteen, and came to Australia with his young wife Christine and their four-year-old son, Raimond, soon after the end of World War II. Raimond Gaita tells a tragic story about growing up with his father in the lonely stretches of country Australia.

The film translates the book well and while Raimond tells the story of his father’s life in his new homeland, he also explores the morals and personality of the man who shaped his future. The story is about marital relationships, love, compassion, friendship. It is violent and tender, it is harsh and gentle like the land in which it takes place. It explores the nightmarish reality of madness, the balance between work and the moral order of things. Therein is portrayed the poverty of existence, but also the richness of heart and soul. It is a superficially simple tale of honesty (with ourselves first and then with others), a memoir of a love of a man for a woman and love between a father and his son.

The film is quite brutal and violent in parts, poignant and sparse in its emotions, but quite powerful in its frugality. Ferocious images assail the viewer’s eyes and the faint-hearted may do well to not watch it as the violence grips one by the throat. One wonders how the tender, young child, Raimond, survived through such a brutal childhood to become a foremost academic and well-respected philosopher. The relationship between him and his father may have been the salvaging grace. As Raimond Gaita says: “On many occasions in my life I have had the need to say, and thankfully have been able to say: I know what a good workman is; I know what an honest man is; I know what friendship is; I know because I remember these things in the person of my father.”

The child actor Kodi Smit-McPhee who plays Raimond definitely is the one that carries the film, while Eric Bana does a creditable job as Romulus. Franka Potente plays Raimond’s mother and good performances are also given by Marton Czokas and Russell Dysktra as two brothers, family friends of the Gaitas. Australian TV viewers will recognize Terry Norris in a small supporting role (“Blue Heelers”, “Matlock Police” “Division 4” and “Homicide” - and how he has aged!).

The music by Basil Hogios and the cinematography by Geoffrey Simpson are a great addition to the film and contribute hauntingly to the atmosphere. Although there is great sadness and loneliness expressed in the film, there is also an underlying optimism and determination to succeed in the face of adversity. Raimond’s success in later life can be read between the lines and in the epilogue screen after the fade out, we are pleased to learn that Romulus also found some tranquility and fulfillment later in life also.

It is a grim film, a violent and powerful one, but worth seeing nevertheless.

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