Rose Island doesn’t have many new ideas or much ambition, but its optimism is a rarity these days, and its message to keep dreaming in spite of it all is more welcome now than ever.
You wouldn’t expect a film about a dissatisfied engineer who builds his own island and applies for its independence to be described as “small scale”, yet here we are. Apparently based on a true story, Sydney Sibilia’s Rose Island, new on Netflix today, crafts a very human underdog story out of the idealistic Giorgio Rosa (Elio Germano) antagonizing a draconian Italian bureaucracy by constructing a private haven in neutral waters off the coast of Rimini.
Giorgio is quite brilliant but, as the love of his life Gabriella (Matilda De Angelis, whose cleavage is fresh from a starring role in HBO’s The Undoing) calls it, risky. He’s the kind of guy who’ll design his own car but not get a license to drive it; the kind of hapless idealist for whom rules and regulations are just irritating barriers to thoroughly wacky ideas. His latest of those wacky ideas, inspired by a poster for an oil rig, is to dissolve barriers altogether by creating his own independent country. Easier said than done, but not impossible with the right kind of can-do spirit, unfailing optimism, and motley misfits.
At two hours, Rose Island is a little long for this light premise; it has a clear overarching goal in mind but treads water before it achieves it, with a screenplay – co-written by Sibilia and Francesca Manieri – reiterating the growth of Giorgio’s island as both a party hotspot and a thorn in the side of the Italian government. Giorgio’s crew, comprising fellow engineer Maurizio (Leonardo Lidi), pregnant Franca (Violetta Zironi), club promoter Neumann (Tom Wlaschiha), and welder Pietro (Alberto Astorri), are fun but thin, and all the government representatives are clichéd bureaucrats resorting to increasingly ridiculous means of fun-sponging.
You do get the sense, though, that Rose Island isn’t intended to be deep or revelatory or anything else beyond superficially entertaining and lightly inspiring. It’s a classic underdog story that insists, and in some ways proves, that all you really need in life is the will to make a difference and the stubbornness to not be told no. That’s probably a message we can all stand to hear now and again.