Warmly felt but haltingly told meller “Romulus, My Father” holds the attention with fine perfs and exquisite lensing, but never really grips the imagination. Helming bow by Oz thesp Richard Roxburgh predictably leaves actors plenty of room, but the literary tone and episodic structure rob the pic of dramatic momentum. Name cast, particularly Franka Potente, may tempt Euro auds into sampling this effort based on a memoir by German-born, Australian-based philosopher Raimond Gaita. But despite local mainstream affection for Eric Bana, local B.O. has been strictly arthouse niche.
In the summer of 1961, 9-year-old Raimond (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is living with his Romanian-speaking Yugoslavian father Romulus Gaita (Bana) in the rural Oz town of Maryborough. Rustic life is rough but charming, and Aussie country folk treat the young boy and his intense father (whom they call Jack) as amusing oddities.
Idyllic setting is disturbed by the fleeting return of Raimond’s German mother Christina (Potente), who has been working in Melbourne. Home atmosphere is initially icy, but passion between the parents heats up before she disappears again.
Later, gossip from the immigrant community informs Romulus that the next time his wife returns, she’ll have her new lover and fellow immigrant, Mitru (Russell Dykstra), in tow.
Romulus stoically bears the cuckolding, while from the sidelines, Rai watches in nonjudgmental wonder. Despite a new man and, soon after, a new child, Christina’s unruly nature continues unabated and her behavior becomes progressively more erratic. Mitru becomes even more infuriated than Romulus ever was, which creates a bond between the two men.
Narrative awkwardly compresses several years’ worth of traumatic events, and pic develops an increasingly melodramatic tone that is at odds with Roxburgh’s poetic helming.
Bana successfully widens his onscreen repertoire as the titular parent, but Potente struggles to bring anything new or sympathetic to the role of wayward mother Christina. Supporting cast is convincing, with Dykstra distinguishing himself in the difficult role of Mitru. Smit-McPhee is endearing as the cherub-faced Rai.
Basil Hogios’ score is overly insistent, but Geoffrey Simpson’s lensing never fails to please the eye.