Thursday, 5 June 2014

Barbarossa: Siege Lord (2009)

This movie - which was also released under the title Sword of War - pretty clearly wants to be the new Braveheart almost as badly as that film wanted to be the new Spartacus.  There are lots of stirring speeches about 'Freedom!' (or at least, they're supposed to be stirring), lots of battle scenes, and skullduggery and treachery aplenty before the final climactic battle between good and evil.

Or actually, not between good and evil, but protagonist and antagonist.  Because one of the ways in which this film does vary from its obvious inspirations is in having a fairly sympathetic protrayal of both sides of the conflict.  It's apropos that this film is named for the antagonist of the piece, rather than the protagonist, as it nicely signals this more balanced approach.  I doubt that was actually the intent of the choice of name: that probably comes down to the fact that Barbarossa is a highly recognisable title in Europe.  But it makes a good 'after the fact' symbol.

So does this film measure up to either of its forebears?  Well, it's certainly no Spartacus.  The acting is decidedly uneven.  I suspect the dialogue was done entirely in post production, which probably contributes.  The script also has some howlingly silly stuff in it: the aforementioned speeches being one of them, but the 'secret weapon' of the 'heroes' takes the cake.  It's not a good plan to have your climactic battle scene reduce your audience to tears of laughter.

Despite all that, I quite enjoyed this highly fictionalised account of the war between Emperor Frederick I (Barbarossa) and the Italian cities of the Lombard League.  The relatively sympathetic portrayal of the Emperor helped, I think.  Sure, the Lombards are obviously intended to be the heroes, with all their shouts of 'Freedom!', but Barbarossa is at least shown to be an honorable - if implacable - foe.

I can't ultimately recommend this, because it's longer than it needs to be, and the final battle is an astonishingly ill-conceived piece of cinema.  But I didn't mind the experience as a whole.  You don't often see film-makers shooting (however inaccurately) for this kind of historical epic, these days.

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