In rural '50s Victoria, a Romanian migrant, Romulus (Eric Bana), lives poorly with his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and, occassionally, his neglectful German wife, Christina (Franka Potente). When an extra marital affair results in a child, Christina take her own life. Despite his own breakdown, Romulus must find the strength to go on for his son's sake.

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It was at Belvoir Street Theatre in Sydney in 1994 that actor Richard Roxburgh made his directing debut with That Eye, The Sky. Based on Tim Winton's book it told the story of struggling rural Australians as seen through the eyes of their young son. And now for his movie directorial debut, Roxburgh has chosen not dissimilar material in Romulus, My Father.

Based on Raymond Gaita's memoir, it's about growing up in country Victoria in the early 1960s as the son of troubled Yugoslavian migrants. Eric Bana plays Romulus. He's a good man being torn up by the pressures of raising his young son Rai in hardscrabble circumstances - and by his doomed love for his estranged and disturbed ex-wife Christina.
Roxburgh and his team have created an authentic-looking period Australia that's free of the glow of nostalgia. This is a place where every surface or piece of clothing is tattered and stained.

It's a constant reminder of how tough life is for these New Australians. But where the film really shines is in the utterly natural performances. It's not surprising that Roxburgh knows exactly how to get the best from his actors.

We expect Bana to be good and he is as the strong, proud man who's trying not to split apart at the seams.German actress Franka Potente - best known for Run Lola Run - is restless and tortured as Christina, a woman ahead of her time and place. But the film really belongs to newcomer Kodi Smit McPhee as Rai. He was just 10 when he made this and it's a stunning, heartbreaking feature film debut. American child stars watch out. This kid is that good.

Romulus, My Father is a slice of life character-study that's a slow-burn. Not a lot happens to begin with but this is when the strong characterisations are putting their hooks into us.
So by the time events turn tragic - really tragic - we care enormously about what happens to this family.

It's a downbeat movie whose upbeat message is found in what happened after the events of the film. Rai not only survived his childhood but he grew up to be one of the world's most respected moralists.