“The important thing is to change the world”
Sydney Sibilia’s 2020 comedy-drama Rose Island (Italian: L’incredibile storia dell’Isola delle Rose) tells the incredible true story of the Republic of Rose Island, the creation and swift destruction of which led to the UN moving the borders of international waters from six to twelve nautical miles all around the world.
Eccentric engineer Giorgio Rosa (Elio Germano) constantly finds himself impounded by the law. As his frustration with Italy’s genius-thwarting bureaucracy grows, Giorgio enlists the help of a fellow engineer, Maurizio (Leonardo Lidi), to construct a man-made platform in the Adriatic Sea, off the coast of Rimini. As the team grows, so does the popularity of what is quickly perceived as a party island, gaining the bewildered Italian government’s full attention. However, Giorgio soon learns that no man is truly free.
The protagonist possesses a distinct rabid impulsiveness that is suggestive of Jesse Eisenberg’s performance in David Fincher’s The Social Network (2010). To clinch this comparison tightly in the audience’s subconsciousness, the initial dialogue that takes place between Giorgio and his ex-girlfriend, Gabriella (Matilda De Angelis), reflects the masterful evasiveness of Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue – though falling short of the same ingenuity. Trading unanswered questions like a batch of rancid eggs, the characters emulate The Social Network‘s lead couple, allowing the dejected female to spark the genius that propels the rest of the story forward.
Apart from the stimulating witticism of what is said, Valerio Azzali’s cinematography provides a distracting accompaniment in the form of all that can be seen. Rose Island is drowned in apricot and ocean-blue tones, bouncing shards of jovial colour from one detail to another in an apparent attempt to make us wish we could crawl through the screen and take a dip in the undulating body of water.
Comedy and tragedy stroll hand-in- hand, leaving us teetering on the edge of impropriety whenever distaster masks itself, milking laughter from horrified mouths. This is as true of the memorable motorcycle crash scene, as it is of the final confrontation with the naval artillery, when the elasticity of the human spirit is put to the test. Even the most somber conversations take on an absurd edge, relieving the film of its responsibility to present the true events in a dull and solemn light. This saves Rose Island from becoming another disillusioned tale about a failed utopia, the concept of which even Thomas More satirised to such an extent, that those less perceptive judged him to be its propagator.
In fact, the film masters comedy surprisingly well. Following in More’s footsteps, Rose Island ridicules many of the social issues that led to Giorgio Rosa wishing to declare an independent state in the first place. The teasing dialogue toys around with rationalised theft, tax evasion, police surveillance and casual racism.
And yet, all this is done in a tasteful manner, seeming more like an inside joke than the slap of a glove across the unitary cheek of the Italian people. If the film had been made shorter, its titillating dynamism would have prevailed. Instead, by the end, the unavoidable outcome is stretched to its limits, threatening to numb the concentration of those waiting for the credits to roll.
Still, to rinse mouths of the bile that might gather there as a result of Rose Island‘s audacious social commentary, and to hook the audience slipping into the swaying waters of slumber, the cartoonish quality of the film’s battling forces is pushed to the forefront of the film’s second half. The members of the government run around like headless chickens, all the while contorting their brows to splash their internal chagrin all over the screen.
Beneath the hyperbole of their despair, however, rests the brewing power of those wishing to vanquish all anarchists. Despite this threat, the film’s lead rebel makes no attempt to conceal his sense of disillusionment, dejection and loneliness, shaping Rose Island into a tribute to the impeded “search for absolute freedom”.