The First King: the dawn of the eternal fight for command

The fight for power is a recurrent theme in both film and TV series of recent years. The latest, astounding film by Matteo Rovere is no exception.

The story of the First King covers a period of just a few days, during which we witness the rocambolesque, sudden and violent creation of a leader through a destiny which everyone appears to take for granted. In this Italian production which seems to be anything but an example of our classic defensive cinematic style, the story of Romulus and Remus and a world in which superstition, religion and magic are basically the same thing is an excellent starting point for a study of destiny, fate, and the laws of both God and humankind. Il Primo Re (The First King) examines something which lies within us, very much secluded but never subdued.

As the cinema and television series teach us, power is a fundamental theme of our times.

Romulus and Remus are the legendary brothers, shepherds in an era not long after the advancement of primitive man. The overflowing of the Tiber which opens the film almost kills them, and most certainly turns their lives upside down, thrusting them into the clutches of one of the many tribes which at the time rampaged throughout the lands. They were destined to die in deadly combat but, together with other prisoners, they manage to escape, and thus begins their fight against the tribe and destiny, guided by a new-found desire for power. And, as the cinema and television series teach us, power is a fundamental theme of our times. Almost all the most important series and most successful films (in other words, the most popular productions) are based on the theme of power; the most legitimate, the most suited to domination, or the most ethical. Il Primo Re is no exception and transforms Romulus and Remus into the representations of a military leader and a churchman, the two focal points of power throughout world history.

Opening with the phrase “A God who makes himself known is no God”, the film by Matteo Rovere is bent on depicting an era which preceded organised faith, in which Paganism was more about fear than belief (and thus, again, a form of power). It has also succeeded in the not-so-easy task of creating an atmosphere in which the supernatural is everywhere, reflecting the beliefs of the characters. 
Il Primo Re is a film that presents the characters in the foreground by exploiting hidden natural elements in the background: water rippled by the wind, untamed vegetation, poisonous swamps, earth, mud, and a black, passion-filled night that seems never-ending.

In order to do all this, Rovere does not shy away from imitating The Passion of the Christ in seeking to give the impression of a world in which the power of religion is everywhere (the aforementioned score, the use of a lost language, pre-archaic Latin, which transforms the dialogue into arcane magic formulas), yet he has the strength to never represent divinity, thus working on the doubt that this divinity is no more than the desire of mankind to believe.

The fact that all of this takes place in a film which is full of ancestral clashes in which intellectual speculation takes a back seat and in which, apart from the main characters, there isn’t a single normal body or face, but rather pre-human creatures, devastated countenances and bodies forged by the wilderness, is more than we could have hoped for. Faced with such a triumph, even the slightly weak third act and a lack of thrills (in the points in which the film is clearly trying to create them) can be forgiven.

Film title:
Il Primo Re (The First King)
Directed by:
Matteo Rovere
Italy, Belgium
Groenlandia, Gapbusters, Rai Cinema, VOO, BeTV
Filippo Gravino, Francesca Manieri, Matteo Rovere
Daniele Ciprì
Tonino Zera
Andrea Farri

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