Review: Romulus & Remus - The First King
by Camillo De Marco
- Matteo Rovere reconstructs the legend of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome with a nine-million-euro co-production, in Italian cinemas from 31 January
Matteo Rovere's Romulus & Remus - The First King [+see also:
film profile],in Italian cinemas from 31 January with 01 Distribution, has been hotly anticipated after successfully traversing the somewhat stifling Italian film market. Rovere is well-known for his 2016 film, Italian Race [+see also:
interview: Matilda De Angelis
interview: Matteo Rovere
film profile], as well as his ambition to combine genre with work as an auteur, supplying the viewer with the right mix of action and style in an attempt to create an alternative cinema model – one that’s based on the construction of financial plans. An Italian-Belgium €9,000,000 co-production (Groenlandia and GapBusterswith RAI Cinema, in association with Roman Citizen Entertainment), Romulus & Remus - The First King is about the founding of Rome and focuses on the relationship of two twin brothers, Romulus (Alessio Lapice) and Remus (Alessandro Borghi), with legend having it that the former went on to found the greatest empire history has ever known. The film focuses on two simple shepherds who are overwhelmed when the river Tiber floods. Viewers will immediately pick up on the brothers’ very close and protective bond. Taken prisoner in order to be sacrificed to a "triple goddess," together with some other slaves, they escape, taking with them the vestal Satnei (Tania Garribba), who guards the sacred fire. Through marshes and woodlands, in an archetypal journey created by Christopher Vogler, the small group moves towards freedom, pursued by soldiers from Alba Longa, the powerful city of the Latin people. Remus is seriously injured during an ambush, but his brother fights off both men and gods to save him, unaware of his fate.
In addition to the film’s set design, with its attempt at historical reconstruction (the film is set in 800 B.C.) based on valid scientific sources, the director and production team have attempted to engage in a philological operation very similar to Mel Gibson’s successful attemptin Passion of Christ –which is in Aramaic, Hebrew and Latin – and Apocalypto, which is in the Yucatec Maya language. In fact, the cast of The First King speaks a proto-Italic language, reconstructed by a group of semiologists thanks to epigraphs, tombs and objects that were contemporary to the time period in which Romulus and Remus were imagined to have lived. A courageous and exciting decision that will be put to the test at the cinema, but which doesn’t seem to compromise narration and makes for an immersive experience. The action scenes are very elaborate, and the fight scenes, in particular, are raw, animalistic and somewhat reminiscent of Vikings, Game of Thrones or even Valhalla Rising [+see also:
interview: Nicolas Winding Refn
But the most interesting aspect of the screenplay lies in the fact that Remus is given both a body and an identity, seeing as he has always historically (or rather legendarily) been known as a failure. It is no coincidence that the role has been entrusted to Alessandro Borghi, a promising actor in recent years – winner of the European Shooting Star Award at the Berlinale in 2017, and superb protagonist of Don't Be Bad [+see also:
film profile], Suburra [+see also:
interview: Stefano Sollima
film profile] and On My Skin [+see also:
film profile]. In fact, Remus is the film’s true protagonist. And in this "double" game, he immediately proves to be the most charismatic and vigorous of the twins. Slowly, he begins to convince himself that he is the chosen one and that he can be king, embodying the classic sin of hubris. His challenge to the gods, in a society in which everything humans do is subject to divine judgment, makes him very "modern," for better or for worse. But "a God that can be understood is no God," as we read in the film – a William Somerset Maugham quote– and Remus will pay for his arrogance. Romulus’ religious feelings and understanding of the weak will inevitably triumph, as per various historical sources. Moreover, the word "asylum," which is much debated today, can be owed to the legend of Romulus: founder of a new city that guaranteed shelter and protection to all.
French outfit Indie Sales is handling the world sales.
(Translated from Italian)
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