Umberto Bossi, leader of the Northern League (Lega Nord) and minister in Berlusconi's coalition Government has a bit part in this film (I failed to spot him). The film was sponsored by the Italian Cultural Ministry. Nothing wrong with taxpayers' money subsidising cultural projects beyond the reach of commercial reward. I applaud how French local government sponsors recordings of obscure but delectable baroque operas. Unfortunately 'Barbarossa' is more soap opera than great cultural project.
This is a pity because it tells an important story. The film works best when it concentrates on the known history. Rutger Hauer makes a very good Barbarossa – the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick 1st who oversaw the canonisation of his predecessor Charlemagne as part of his bid to recreate a Universal Empire. This warrior king is supported by his feisty second wife Beatrice (who bore him 12 children) and his cousin Henry the Lion who finally abandons him before his famous defeat at Legnano. There is some attention to historical detail – his standard, Charlemagne's crown, the outbreak of plague in Rome, the destruction of Milan, Henry's refusal to help before Legnano.
Opposing Barbarossa's imperial ambitions we have the film's hero, one Alberto da Giussano, a mythical figure in the mould of Robin Hood and William Tell. Alberto is also an icon of the Lega Nord. He inspires the Lombard League of rival Northern cities to unite against Barbarossa with such cunning devices as - an unbreakable bundle of sticks!! The writers weave an unconvincing story around Alberto. There is a distracting romance with a 'seer-witch' whose sister is pursued by arch-villain and imperial-supporting Milanese 'traitor' F. Murray Abraham. The sub-plot of what happens to these fictitious characters does nothing for the film at all. It simply dumbs down and spoils the film's central theme, pace and dynamic. Alberto is one-dimensional and has little to recommend him. There is much plain silliness, cliché and banality.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong in mixing fact and fiction in a feature film. Interweaving the lives of the mythical Alberto and the real Barbarossa is a useful device which personalises the political struggle. It is a pity that the quality of the very good opening scene is not sustained. The film degenerates into a flabby unfocused meander through some 20 years of history. Hildegard of Bingen prophesying Barbarossa's watery death is an unnecessary distraction which has nothing to do with the film's theme. It should be possible to make a much better 'pro- Lombardy' film than this one. Frederick bearing off the Magi Relics from Milan Cathedral to Germany (where they still reside) added insult to injury after he destroyed Milan. But this is omitted. Script and direction needed to be much tighter.
The battle scenes are mediocre when compared with recent medieval films. The portrayal of the climactic Battle of Legnano is inaccurate. A central role is assigned to scythe-wielding peasants in carts who wreak destruction among the imperial cavalry. The one Carroccio (cart) bearing the standard and crucifix of the rebels has been multiplied and transformed into a division of 12th Century tanks! This is a laughable end to a disappointing film. The battle was, in fact, decided by the late arrival of the Brescian cavalry.
Why these North Italian cities opposed Frederick is never clearly explained. We witness some tax-avoiding sword-smiths butcher imperial officers who catch them smuggling. A written demand from Frederick to Milan is ground underfoot with no explanation. Alberto and friends spend a lot of time crying 'Freedom!' Rivalries between and within cities are alluded to but the F. Murray Abraham character is left to shoulder the burden of the pro-imperial cause. This is shown simply as cowardly and self-serving.
All history is partial and I have no quarrel with an Italian film singing the virtues of the Lombard League. North Italian cities have made a great contribution to Western Civilisation. They were but one player in the forces arrayed against Barbarossa. These included Pope Alexander III, the Norman king of Sicily and innumerable German princes who had already drained power and wealth from the office of emperor which was fast becoming elective. None of these appear as protagonists in this film. This complex political struggle lasted centuries and sowed the seeds of future German and Italian disunity.
In this respect, at least, the film renders good service in highlighting an important piece of history. This long-lasting disunity eventually produced two manic nationalisms, wars of unification and unstable modern unities which quickly degenerated into the Fascism/Nazism whose shadow still hangs over us. So the obscure story told here is an important component of European history which raises the perennial issue of Centralism versus Localism.
Bossi and his Lega Nord wish to rally rich Northerners against corrupt Romans and Mafia-ridden Southerners. They would, no doubt, like to remind us that Barbarossa was able to establish a tight control over Central Italy and a marriage alliance with the Norman South. It seems that only sturdy Northerners can be trusted to maintain freedom from corruption, indolence and outside interference! Having defeated the great Barbarossa, the Lombard League's modern descendants must unite to prevent their hard-earned cash being syphoned off to an unworthy South. So the film's message serves modern identity politics. Nothing wrong with that. All politics is identity politics.
Another historical interpretation would argue that Barbarossa ceded very little to the cities after his Legnano defeat, that his 40-year struggle to build a power base in Germany, Burgundy and Italy left him feeling secure and wealthy enough to embark on the fatal Third Crusade. The premature deaths of Frederick and his son conspired to prevent Germany from developing into a united hereditary monarchy with all the consequences this entailed. The relations between the North Italian cities and their subsequent rulers remained tense because cities produce great wealth which rulers want to get their hands on. Clearly, these tensions remain!
Drama / History / War
Drama / History / War
German Emperor Barbarossa will stop at nothing to conquer and build his empire. But a young man from Milan, along with his army of 900 men known as the Company of Death, is prepared to challenge the Emperor.
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
August 11, 2021 at 06:53 AM