June 9th 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Climate change: don't spoil a good story with facts

NATIONAL SECURITY: How to fight global terrorism

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Kevin Rudd attack on Howard comes unstuck

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Nuclear power, ethanol can cut CO2 emissions

PRIMARY INDUSTRY: Wheat industry win, but final outcome uncertain

OPINION: Caving in to predatory big business

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Workplace relations and human asset-stripping / The Tampa victory revisited / Another tinsel turkey for Auntie / Show and tell

DRUGS POLICY: Drugs must be a federal election issue

CHINA: Beijing's crackdown ahead of Olympics

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: Can we afford to ignore the Middle East?

MEDICAL ETHICS: Intentionally deformed ... for her own good?

EDUCATION: Intact family the single most critical factor in academic success

THE WORLD: Poland - front line in the culture wars

OBITUARY: Polish-Australian Stan Gotowicz a man of many parts

Howard Government's 'generosity' disputed (letter)

Apology for error (letter)

Why families can't afford a home (letter)

CINEMA: Family - the necessary refuge for sinners

BOOKS: MENACE IN EUROPE: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's, by Claire Berlinski

Books promotion page

Family - the necessary refuge for sinners

by Anthony Barich

News Weekly, June 9, 2007
The new Australian film Romulus, My Father, starring Eric Bana, celebrates the importance of fatherhood. Reviewed by Anthony Barich.
Romulus (Eric Bana)

A line uttered by a young boy, barely into his teens, in the new Australian film Romulus, My Father (M), encapsulates much of why Christianity defends the family as it does: "I reckon we should live together all the time."

This apparently naïve statement is given in the context of a broken family whose members find it difficult to co-exist. A philandering, depressed mother Christina, played by German-born Franka Potente (Run, Lola, Run and Bourne Identity), drives her extraordinarily compassionate husband Romulus (Eric Bana, The Hulk, Troy, Munich) to his wit's end.

But the boy's plea speaks volumes about the impact on children of parents separating. It also underlines the crucial role of a father in a child's life, and presents the model on which that great but much-maligned institution - fatherhood - can be based.

Saintly father

Australian philosopher (and writer for Quadrant magazine) Raimond Gaita, on whose memoirs this movie is based, doubtless did not intend the movie (or his book) to promote Christian values. It is simply his account of the influence that his almost saintly father had on his outlook on life.

Indeed, there is no reference to any foundational faith underpinning the staggeringly compassionate attitude of Gaita's father Romulus, played with great humanity by Eric Bana.

But Christian charity, though unnamed as such, animates Romulus, although extreme circumstances push him literally to the brink of insanity.

Both depression and insanity are depicted at a very personal level. They are not condemned but presented simply as things that must be accepted with the love of family.

Whether secular critics like it or not, Romulus, My Father demonstrates the inevitable consequences of marital infidelity, divorce, separation, domestic violence and even suicide.

The late John Paul II said that "God's merciful love overcomes every poverty, every limitation, every temptation in despair".

Without God, problems in life generally occur from a lack of love, and it is love that Romulus offers, unwaveringly, for his son and wife.

And, make no mistake, although God is not mentioned, it is God who is working through Romulus every time he welcomes his wife's new lover and their baby to his dinner-table in his humble home in the bush; every time he refuses to divorce his wife, even though her recklessness is the cause of constant bickering; and every time he forgives his philandering wife, no matter the cost to his own sanity.

Romulus believes that "every boy needs a mother" and that a boy growing up in the world "will be measured as a man by (his) work. A man's work is his dignity" - the very ethos that formed the bedrock of European migrants in Australia.

What's more, Romulus's compassion rubs off onto his son, who accepts his mother's illegitimate baby as his own sister.

It's the quietness of this film, the lack of any special effects or much music beyond on-screen sound that separates this from mainstream Hollywood schmaltz and makes it such worthwhile viewing.

That, along with the bush landscape surrounding the humble Gaita home, almost become characters in their own right.

Romulus, My Father is directed by first-timer Richard Roxburgh. Because of the simplicity of the script, the film relies almost entirely on acting to reveal fully the tumultuous story.

In the film there is a scene of obvious sexual intercourse, but it is within the context of marriage.

Eric Bana deserves particular praise for his simple depiction of a deeply charitable man. When Jesus told the apostle Peter to forgive those who sinned against him not seven times but "70 times seven" (Matt 18:21-22), the example shown by Bana's Romulus is exactly what He meant.

The compassion of Romulus cannot be accounted for by his culture. Indeed, his best friend Hora (Marton Csokas, Kingdom of Heaven) constantly lectures him - and his wife - on how damaging her actions are on the family unit and the boy. "You just keep forgiving, no matter what it costs," Hora reproaches Romulus.

This film also presents a very personal portrait of the struggles European immigrants confronted with integrating themselves into Australian society.

Romulus's wife Christina is seemingly unable to control her philandering. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that neglecting one's parental responsibilities and indulging in personal pleasure are not only wrong but can have devastating consequences.

When Christina comes to her senses, she realises that her family is where she belongs and that, fraught with friction as it may be, the family can still be a refuge for sinners.

Her disregard for her husband's love is what drives her young son Raimond (Kodi Smit-McPhee) to distance himself from her when she most needs forgiveness from him, with tragic consequences.

- film reviewed by Anthony Barich, a journalist for The Record (Perth).

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