Despite the inevitably dark subject-matter I really enjoyed this film. There’s something about the immigrant experience in pre-multicultural Australia that really strikes a cord with me for some reason? I also enjoyed La Spagnola for example, and enjoyed Love’s Brother even though it was a bit of a schtinker.
What it seems to come down to is the description of the experience of isolation and alienation felt by many immigrant people, regardless of national or cultural context. And Romulus, My Father works this experience brilliantly without excessive sentimentality or rose-tinting. There is no “happy migrant” mythology woven, for example, just hard-working people doing their best to make it in a hostile environment.
The story is told from the point of view of Raimond Gaita, a well-known Australian author and philosopher, who grew up in central Victoria in the 1960s. What you’ll need to know is that central Victoria is still a pretty backward place, so you can imagine what the 60s were like…
I also watched an interview with Gaita on the DVD, and it was highly illuminating. This is because while the film is ostensibly about his father, and he describes it as such, much of the action revolves around his manic-depressive mother, a whirlwind of a woman more isolated that any other character in the film. It is his mother who causes much of the misery experienced by all the characters, and it is the events succeeding her absence from the film that so deeply effects Romulus.
Her experience in Australia is typical of many women transplanted from sophisticated European cities into rural dead-ends. Mental illness was incredibly high among this demographic in the mid-C20th, and much of it can be attributed to the isolation and stifling social strictures imposed by conservative British-Australian values.
In the middle of all this walks Raimond, and resourceful but ultimately helpless boy.
This is a great film, and one you should see. The characters are managed lovingly and well, and the pace of the film echoes the sleepy landscape of the Australian bush with gentle grace.