review of the prehistory of Rome on Amazon Prime

big myth

The lives of Romulus and Remus, the first kings of Rome in 750 BC. J.-C., are more like legends than historical facts. Thus, the series of Matteo Rovere has free rein to write his own version of the story and surprise with a bold reinterpretation. The myth originally gives pride of place to the gods, Romulus and Remus being sons of Mars, the god of war. Gold, Romulus here makes the interesting choice of never representing the deities, unlike the Netflix series Troy: the fall of a city which placed Olympus at the heart of human relations.

This bias allows the story to retain a semblance of realism, while suggesting the presence of Roman deities in the decisions of men. Like the characters, we believe in the signs that surround them that we interpret, torn between reason and beliefs. The desire to stick to a certain reality of this period is also illustrated in the choice to shoot the entire series in Old Latin giving dialogue a unique sound.

The attack of the Titans

Thereby, Romulus revolves around the fantastic without ever diving into it. Mythological elements do not appear on screen, this magical aura is essentially present in the minds and hearts of men and women. This aspect goes through scenes taking place mainly in a forest filmed as a mystical place with its misty backgrounds and its atmospheres reminiscent of Excalibur from 1981. There is a relationship to nature similar to John Boorman’s film because nature is the place of the supernatural and cuts men off from the godswhile building a city would bring them closer.

However, the problem with this rewriting of the legend, as relevant as it is in its ideas, is thatshe discards her most famous symbol: the wolf nursing babies. Apart from Jesus Christ, there are few historical figures whose depiction as a baby is such a famous image. However, Romulus does not take it into account, making its heroes young adults betrayed by an uncle who steals the throne from them. A story like Hamlet which brings back a procession of characters with quite worn-out archetypes. The latter are luckily saved by actors and actresses inhabited by their roles, especially Francesco Di Napoli, the interpreter of one of the two brothers.

Romulus: PictureThe excellent Francesco Di Napoli

history of violence

Nicknamed the Eternal City, Rome is one of the cradles of Western civilization and Romulus makes the wise choice to be the story of the transition between a humanity divided into packs killing each other, to the beginning of a united people building a city in the heart of the world. Thereby all faces, male and female, are covered with scars and scars depicting lives led as battles.

The first episodes feature young people in a rite of passage like a survival course. There, they almost become animals again before being a group of men becoming civilized. Sequences that can be compared to those of still archaic villages, yet future bases of the Roman Empire. Thoughtful and engaging storytelling ideas which are found throughout the season.

Romulus: PictureFrom Barbarians to Romans

This cruelty is found enormously in the interactions between the characters where the response by blood is the solution to all the exchanges. Threatening to commit suicide, mutilating a body, sacrificing, hitting, the discussions leave quickly on a barbaric atmosphere. It’s a pity that writing weaknesses make certain reactions, notably the murders, sometimes grotesque. The protagonists often seem to leave at the quarter turn before slipping a dagger between the ribs of their interlocutor. This gives rather improbable scenes where spending a day at the time without offending the sensibilities of a psychopath seems to be a miracle.

The staging of Matteo Rovere also embodies this violence and adapts to the energy of the characters, like an enraged hero that a handheld camera will follow in his outburst of anger. The cruelty of the men is especially highlighted in the close-ups of the blood and the red drops beading from the bodies as if it were the tribute paid for Rome, and by extension modern civilization, to exist.

Romulus: photo, Marianna Fontana, RomulusTo shed blood, a daily task

All facilities lead to Rome

Despite the good intentions of trying to transcribe the betrayals and shenanigans of the time, Romulus greatly condenses its history – which can be summed up in a few days, or even weeks if we look broadly. Nothing to do with the dark and tumultuous adventures of Romulus and Remus spanning a life that one might expect. In the series, everything goes quickly and there is no time to pose ambiguous relationships believable between the characters. So, Rome may not have been built in a day, but it clearly didn’t take more than a big week of work.

And even if the decorations are superbwith green and still wild landscapes, or interiors as well decorated as lit with torches, they are sorely lacking in size. The series takes place in a valley where thirty lords rule, but we never feel their presence. The main village has three houses that fight a duel, when the second is made of four terracotta huts. And incredibly generic music to the tunes of hans zimmerian conditioning finishes giving an epic impression to three sesterces.

Romulus: photo, Emilio De Marchi, RomulusRobinson Crusoeus

Although several shots strike the retina, knowing how to play with the rays of light filtered by the branches or the orange reflections of the flames on the faces, they mainly act as a mask. The realization therefore favors the style, exploiting at best what there is to film, rather than a general coherence. In effect, the calibration never displays the same colorimetry. Some scenes are saturated in greens, when not in black and white, while others are so yellow it feels like the Mexico of breaking Bad.

Matteo Rovere’s ambition has probably exceeded his means, which is not a fault except when he loosens the project. Whether this version of the genesis of Rome fails to be a gripping and epic talewe nevertheless feel the sincerity behind Romulus. These multiple subjects around a nascent modern humanity are ultimately more attractive than the story of the seizure of power by the founding fathers of the world-city.

Romulus is available in full (or almost, lol) on Amazon Prime since August 26, 2022

Romulus: Official Poster


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