Rose Island tells a sort of fable it is hard to believe is based on true events. With its satirical tone and an intelligent dramatisation, Netflix can take pride in a job well done.
Based on the true story of Giorgio Rosa and the micronation he founded in 1968 off the coast of Rimini, Rose Island tells the brief but significant tale of an island that became a symbol of a generation’s dreams and aspirations.
Just going by its name, Rose Island comes across as a place out of a fairytale where magical, fantastical events are sought by only the most determined of explorers.
Even though the titular Island of Rose Island wasn’t actually born in such a magical manner in the real events the new Netflix movie is based on, the story it tells is made of fantastical ideas anyway.
In the beginning
Both in the true story and in the more romanticised tale of the movie, there is a single person behind the origins of the creation of the Island.
The Giorgio Rosa (played by Elio Germano) in the movie initially comes across as a not all that lovable protagonist, a self-proclaimed genius who, with his quirks and his selfishness, ends up causing a lot of damage and belongs to that fodder of presumptuous and know-it-all protagonists that make you roll your eyes about how much they remind you of that guy you met last Friday at the bar who just wouldn’t leave you alone even when you faked a sudden bought of dysentery.
Luckily, it doesn’t take too long for him to accidentally stumble into the sympathies of the viewer.
The reasons for the Island
The reasons behind the creation of the Island are far from noble when Giorgio first starts his undertaking.
Our protagonist finds himself in contrast with the people around him and their expectations for his future, and he surmises that the best way to escape them is to have a place where everything is allowed because there are no restrictions.
Rose Island is born from that rather egotistical desire and only evolves when the first person to become its citizen is a shipwrecked man. From that moment on, the 400m² platform that is the foundation of this utopian place transforms in a harbour of freedom where acceptance and freedom are the distinguishing traits.
That’s how the movie goes from being an almost ridiculous comedy to a story that asks the meaning of freedom and choice, and whether the reasons why someone seeks them can be deemed right or wrong when the final result becomes a conversation of philosophical importance.
The medium through which Rose Island approaches said conversation is undoubtedly a satirical one.
The representation of the reactions to the creation of the Island is definitely just speculation on what was the reality in 1968. The political players around the affair wouldn’t express themselves the way they are shown to do in the movie, and they certainly wouldn’t so openly voice their opinion of the events, but in the story, the bureaucratic minutiae that all Italian viewers will find eerily familiar are represented in an accurate and intelligent way.
The existence of the Island raises fears and questions that very easily reflect the reality of the viewers of the movie. The story makes us face questions such as if the rules we accept in our daily lives are truly just and, most importantly, how much of a problem it would be for society if its citizens started doubting the ways and the reasons these rules were created in the first place.
The film never escalates into boredom or forced highbrow thinking of the subjects, on the contrary, all the conversations it starts are dealt with in clever and astute ways. They are hidden behind the entertainment of the story, but firmly settled into intelligent satire.
It’s a satire that makes caricatures out of more or less all its characters but also keeps them realistic enough that anybody who’s ever had to deal with Italian bureaucracy will easily be able to recognise in someone they’ve had to deal with.
Moreover, the way in which the existence of the Island is framed in the movie brings to the surface (pun not intended) how ridiculous some of the rules and laws we accept really are.
In real life, the creation of the Island had the consequence of the expansion of maritime borders all over the world. Sovereignty over seas and oceans changed overnight, thus demonstrating how arbitrary the borders we blindly accept in everyday life really are.
A quick search into the history of Rose Island immediately reveals that the events as shown in the movie are highly romanticised compared to the true facts, but the ways in which the story is transformed into a tale are ideal for what it is trying to say.
The true story of Rose Island has only recently been brought back to relevance for the utopian aspect of its creation when it had initially been seen as just a demonstration of greediness over the financial advantages of the waters, of territory that didn’t belong to anybody.
In the Netflix movie, it takes on a feeling of hopefulness. Rose Island shows the cement platform on the sea as a place of dreams and possibilities and makes you wish it had never been destroyed and that it could still be visited today, a place where one doesn’t only go to escape the oppressive obligations of civilisation, but where every dream has potential.
The ending of the Island itself isn’t all that hopeful. Right from the start, the challenge at the core of the movie is surrounded by a cloud of impossibility and not even movie magic manages to erase the impression that the small dream on the water was doomed to fail all along. However, the point of the story, both in the movie and possibly in real life, isn’t the Island itself, but the reason for which it was created.
I must confess that I spent a good half hour just looking up international maritime borders maps before writing this review. Aside from the funny side and all the jokes one could make about it, in the end, I feel like the movie brings forth an important lesson and question on what it means to have freedom and on the ways it can be achieved.
It’s not often that Netflix manages to get the same excellent results with its movies that it usually does with its TV shows. In this specific case, I feel like a good comparison would be to say that if The Queen’s Gambit made chess sets fly off the shelves of all stores, I can only imagine what would happen if one could buy DIY construction sets for sovereign islands.
Rose Island is a spirited and interesting movie about an equally interesting turn of events that delivers almost two hours of intelligent entertainment and leaves an impression that is far from superficial.