"Frederick Barbarossa. The Company of Death” is about the struggle of the municipalities of the Lombardy region which, in the Middle Ages, joined together at Pontida and, under the guidance of Alberto da Giussano, opposed the power of the emperor Frederick Barbarossa who wanted to destroy all autonomist ambitions.
The film has been supported by the Lega Nord, the autonomist political party led by Umberto Bossi who is currently in government with Berlusconi.
This support has resulted in Renzo Martinelli’s movie being seen as a work of propaganda focusing on the figure of the rabble rouser from Milan rather than a movie about a piece of Italian history.
“I make the movies I love. It is obvious that the Lega Nord likes it,” says Martinelli, who has already presented the first 10 minutes of the movie at one of the party’s rallies, “but, above all, being from Milan, I am pleased to be able to direct a movie that I can dedicate to my homeland.
I did not receive any interference from above.
The movie is about an emperor and his grand – and rather crazy - dream of recreating the empire of Charlemagne, from Germany to Sicily. It was vital for him to gain possession of the lands in Northern Italy. Alberto da Giussano features in the story, but the film is not about him”.
A highly ambitious project, “Barbarossa” cost 30 million Euros to make (it received financing from Rai Cinema, the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, the Film Commission Lombardia, as well as a group of private investors): thousands of extras, 4500 horses and over 800 scenes with special effects.
In all, it is a colossal movie that also hopes to find a market outside Italy due to its epic nature and medieval/wartime backdrop, always exciting features even when there is little interest in or knowledge of the historical events recounted.
The international title, “The Company of Death” (this was the name given to the nucleus of fighters at the heart of the Lombard army) is very evocative.
The actors include Rutger Hauer “tall, charismatic, with a fantastic hooked profile” in the role of Frederick, F. Murray Abraham plays Siniscalco Barozzi “the baddie, a type of local chief who betrays his city”, Angela Molina, Cecilie Cassel, Kasia Smutniak, Antonio Cupo, and Raz Degan as Alberto da Giussano.
Preparations took six months and shooting lasted for 10 weeks, between June and August 2008, in Romania, where the city of Milan was recreated (“300 linear meters of wall with two towers and the corresponding gates, a cathedral, a consular palace, streets and squares) and a large uninhabited plain was turned into the Po valley. Post-production, editing, special effects and the soundtrack (by Pivio and Aldo De Scalzi) took around one year to complete.
Martinelli has always been very interested in history: from “Porzus” to “Vajont”, “Piazza delle Cinque Lune”, and “Carnera”.
And now, “Barbarossa”. And it doesn’t stop there: the director told us that he is just about to begin an ambitious new theatrical project about the battle of Vienna which, in 1683, led to the Austrian-Polish-German army halting the advance of the Turks and, thus of Islamism into Europe.
Cinema&Video International, n. 10-11 ottobre-novembre 2009
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