Romulus, My Father


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

We often see stories about how mental problems affect the rich and successful. Imagine how much worse mental illness must be for the poor. That's the subtext of this film, even though it is ostensibly about a father-son relationship. The story is about real people, as recounted in a prize-winning memoir. The late Romulus Gaita was an industrious German emigrant who ended up around the world in Victoria, where he struggled to build a good rural life in the 1950s and 60s with his German wife, Christina. His story was related, as implied by the title, by his own child, Raimond Gaita, who is a philosopher and a respected professor in England.

The great tragedy of Romulus's life was not his struggle to survive a hardscrabble existence, which he faced with unswerving determination, but that fact that the effort was made so much more difficult by a deeply troubled wife.  As the film begins, Christina has tired of the rural life and has run off with a family friend to live in Melbourne. She comes back for frequent visits, during which she sleeps with Romulus, leaving both father and son hopeful that she will eventually decide to return for good. These hopes are dashed when she announces that she is pregnant again with the other man's child.

The story portrays the impact of Christina's mental illness on all of the people around her, not just her husband and son, but her lover and their daughter as well. In a sense it demonstrates the way in which mental illness can be contagious, because her unpredictable behavior and her inability to see beyond her own immediate desires leads those who love her to their own breaking points. Romulus was a survivor, but just barely, and only after having spent some of his own life in a mental health facility.

This is an Aussie arthouse film with genuine and fully dimensional characters drawn from life, and acted with great sensitivity. I have greatly underestimated Eric Bana. Because he started as a stand-up comedian and impersonator, because his first international appearances were in films that focused on his pecs, and because one of his later films was ungodly awful, I have kind of a knee-jerk reaction to his name which is similar to the one I have for (let's say) Brigitte Nielsen. That's obviously not fair, as demonstrated by his recent performances as Henry VIII and as Romulus, but I wonder how long it will be before I stop reacting that way. Bana did a great job in this film, and his performance was matched by the other adult males, as well as by Franka Potente and the child who plays Raimond, who turned in about the deepest performance from a boy since The Sixth Sense. Six different members of the cast were nominated for Aussie Oscars by the AFI, and the film received a total of 16 AFI nominations, winning four. The photography is so outstanding that I don't know how it could have lost for Best Cinematography. I haven't seen the winner (The Home Song Stories), but I assume it must make Days of Heaven look like an Ed Wood film.

Romulus is an excellent film in many respects, but you should be forewarned that the story is totally downbeat. Although we know that Rai grew up to be successful and that Romulus lived to a ripe old age and eventually remarried, the portion of their lives portrayed in the film contains far more despair than hope. Every time something in the story seems to get better, it soon makes a 180 and gets even worse than it was. After you watch this film, you could put on some Leonard Cohen songs to lighten the mood. But that, after all, is what really happened and represents the true impact of mental illness.


* widescreen anamorphic

* 143 minutes







2.5 James Berardinelli (of 4 stars)
44 Rotten Tomatoes  (% positive)
57 (of 100)


7.5 IMDB summary (of 10)


Box Office Mojo. Its North American run consisted of three theaters for one week in March of 2008. It grossed about $2 million in Australia.



  • Franka Potente showed her breasts in a dark sex scene.



Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It is an excellent film in many ways, and a solid drama overall, but very long and very depressing.