“Rose Island” is a lightly amusing if somewhat labored Italian account of one of the oddest offshoots of 1960s explorations of the limits of “freedom.”
“Micronations” they’re called, and a few bold experiments of this sort — creating your own country — from that era inspired scores of imitators in the decades since.
Co-writer and director Sydney Sibilia (he did the Italian “I Can Quit Whenever I Want” comedies) tells a simple, romance with nuts-and-bolts- story set against the turbulent decade’s most infamous year, 1968. We only hear about student protests taking over campuses all over the world, roiling governments, including whatever shaky administration was running Italy. Because what’s really going on here is a hapless engineer wants to create his own offshore state to impress a woman.
Giorgio Rosa, played by Elio Germano (“Lucia’s Grace”) has just finished engineering school, building his own car for his final project. But the lovely legal assistant he’s known since childhood, Gabriella (Matilda De Angelis) sees him for the ditzy dreamer he is. He built a car he can drive her home in, sure. He just forgot to register it and get license plates.
Getting jailed is no way to convince her to move on from the more stable Carlo. “You are NOT as smart as you think you are,” (in Italian with English subtitles) is her final kiss-off, without the kiss.
Dad says he needs to “just be normal,”: take a real job where Dad works — Ducati motorcycles.
But the guy who “lives in his own world” sees a billboard advertising offshore drilling platform construction, and he has his quest. With builder-pal Maurizio (Leonardo Lidi) he will build a platform on a shallow piece of the ocean floor, just clear of Italian waters. And that’s just what they do.
“We can live the way we like” on their “independent state,” he promises Maurizio. But a lawn chair on an almost-too-low “island” is not a lot of fun in a storm. Still, when cruising sailor Pietro (Alberto Astorri) shipwrecks there, they have a “population.”
When German army deserter and club-operator Rudy (Tom Wlaschiha) checks the place out, he sees a party spot, and one that can be turned into a cash cow. “Rose Island,” as their “discothèque” is named, is soon overrun with partiers, waterskiers and day drinkers all summer long.
Pregnant bartender Franca (Violetta Zironi) completes their brain trust.
Meanwhile, grumpy, panicky Italian authorities (Fabrizio Bentivoglio and Luca Zingaretti) are losing their ever-loving mind, distracted by this latest affront to the State, another distraction from their efforts to regain control of assorted protestor-occupied college campuses across the country. They go so far as to consult the Pope.
Sydney Sibilia’s film, titled “L’incredibile storia dell’Isola delle Rose” in Italian, frames its story in Giorgio’s late 1968 visit to the UN’s Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France. Dismissive bureaucrats there (French star François Cluzet is their chief) are rattled at seeing a hole in international law, but more than willing to discuss this test case with the sniffly Italian chatterbox who insists that “he” is “a sovereign state.”
The performances and production values keep “Rose Island” above the waves, with actors striking the right whimsical tones and 1960s Italy, Strasbourg and even New York (where the UN is still headquartered) lovingly recreated.
The pacing isn’t comedy-brisk, and for all the implications of the story, what we’re shown of all the machinations and intrigues seems a tad thin. Sibilia doesn’t sweat a lot of details about how they built this thing, costs and logistics. He’s more interested in the nutty notion and the nut who had it, all to impress a very pretty almost-a-lawyer.
But the sun is out, the Cynar is on ice, we’re off the coast of Rimini listening to Italian covers of 1960s pop and everything that can go wrong doesn’t seem worth fretting over until it actually does.
Which is to say, this isn’t all that, but what’s here is cute and perfectly watchable.
MPA Rating: TV-14, profanity
Cast: Elio Germano, Matilda De Angelis, Tom Wlaschiha, Leonardo Lidi, Fabrizio Bentivoglio and François Cluzet
Credits: Directed by Sydney Sibilia, script by Francesca Manieri, Sydney Sibilia. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:57