Once there was a young girl who spoke like a man upon a time when she was not supposed to do so.
once upon a time there was a little girl who met her Prince Charming, and became empress.
This is not so much the story of a siege as that of Frederick I Hohenstaufen ‘Barbarossa’ (Red Beard), German Emperor, who, with the support of his young wife, Beatrice de Burgundy (Cécile Cassel), attempted to recreate Charlemagne’s empire. Subduing a rebellious Milan at any cost was essential for that purpose, as the rest of Northern Italy would then succumb to his authority, opening the opportunity to conquest Rome, and install his self-appointed Pope into the Vatican.
However, after the brutal siege and destruction of Milan, Barbarossa (Rutger Hauer) faced the formidable opposition of the Lombard League, who mastered an opposition force under the command of a certain Alberto da Giussano (Raz Degan), who managed to unite the disparate city states prevalent on that time, finally defeating the Emperor in the battle of Legnano, near Milan, in 1176.
This story forms the skeleton of the film. I do not know how historically accurate is (Wikipedia: ”A tradition, probably fabricated by 14th century Milanese chroniclers, attributes him the deed of forming the "Company of Death" that defended the Carroccio of the League at the Battle of Legnano.”), but it makes a jolly good and well crafted film that throw into the mix a bit of everything: heroism, love interest – not only between, Frederick and Beatrice, but also between Alberto and Leonora (played by Polish actress Kasia Smutniak), witchcraft, spectacular recreation of medieval combat, plenty of gore, and spectacular landscapes (it was filmed in Romania).
Careful attention has been taken to period detail, the cinematography (Fabio Cianchetti) rendering extremely well the beauty of the locations – with the judicious use of aerial shots, the interior and battle shots. Kudos to special effects here for the realistic depiction of the gore of close combat. The music is what can be expected from historical films such as this. Editing is very tight and sharp, adding to the tension of the story.
Barbarossa seems to be a kind of European Union production, as we see German, French, Polish, Italian and Romanian actors, with the support of the Italian government, and filmed on location in Romania.
Regrettably, the film has been dubbed into English. Whilst this has been competently done, surely something has been lost by not actually listening to the actors’ voices, their cadences, their intonation, their quirks. It seems to me that the British public has become over the past few years more and more complacent regarding subtitled films and, to some extent, more and more culturally phobic to any thing which is not British or American.
Barbarossa should not disappoint to those who like movies with a historical or war theme, sugared by a couple of love stories entwined in it, as it is a solidly well crafted film with spectacular landscape and battle scenes.
Director: Renzo Martinelli
Writers: Renzo Martinelli, Giorgio Schottler, Anna Samueli
Cast: Rutger Hauer, Raz Degan, F. Murray Abraham, Cécile Cassel, Kasia Smutniak, Federica Martinelli.
Original Music by Aldo De Scalzi and Pivio
DVD UK Release date: 4th April 2011
DVD RRP: £15.99
Running time: 133 minutes
Still and trailer © Metrodome Distribution