The Republic of Rose Island and Italian Ingenuity

There is a relatively unknown Italian Engineer who was the subject of the recently produced Netflix biopic, titled “Rose Island”. Italian director Sydney Sibilia explained that he stumbled upon the Engineer’s accomplishments after seeing a Wikipedia photo of the infamous Rose Island Platform (in the pic above). Giorgio Rosa was a maverick Engineer in the 1960s who designed a telescopic pillar system – which he patented – and preassembled on a beach before floating it 12 kilometers off the coast of Rimini, Italy. Simply put, he created his own island. 

The film not only explores how Rosa managed to execute a man-made island but more importantly, why he did it. According to Sibilia, when he asked Giorgio why he did it, the Engineer half-jokingly replied “why not?”. In truth, “Rose Island” tells a much more involved story, about a man in search of autonomy, and the freedom to build without borders. 

We are first introduced to Giorgio, played by Elio Germano, in Strasbourg as he camps inside the lobby of the European Court offices. He’s hunched over, physically ill but determined to have the Courts hear his case. As he petitions the Court’s agents to assist him against a disapproving Italian Republic, the film transitions to a series of flashbacks revealing how he created a steel-based island and declared it an autonomous microstate – a microstate complete with its own official language, postal stamps, passports and currency.

The film is colourful, both with its sense of humour and aesthetic vibrancy, and for the most part feels like an international production, mainly for its intriguing set design and American soundtrack. In addition, Matilda De Angelis co-stars as Giorgio’s wife and muse. De Angelis, who at the time of filming was hot off her acclaimed performances in the HBO series “The Undoing”, was surprisingly unaware of Giorgio’s story. “It’s something we really don’t know about and study at school…and I’m actually from Bologna [an hour from Rose Island] and my parents don’t know about this story and my grandparents didn’t know about this story”.

Giorgio’s story, as Matilda goes on to explain, “Is full of ideas of freedom and brotherhood and chasing your dreams”. The story is set against the socio-political revolts of the 1960s, a backdrop that would have undoubtedly influenced Rosa to do the unthinkable – to hoodwink his own Government and leverage International law. In this context, it’s easier to understand why schools might have left it out of the curriculum. While preparing to play Giorgio, Elio Germano spoke with people who lived in the area at the time and noted that, “People were interested in being different, they challenged themselves to be different from others…it’s the opposite of our days, where people try to be like others. So I started working from this point”. Germano’s remarks are the perfect selling point for the film. Because while Italy remains a country whose culture is steeped in tradition, a story like Giorgio’s also reminds us that part of the Italian tradition, is to think outside the box. 

Watch Rose Island on Netflix

Massimo Volpe is a filmmaker and freelance writer from Toronto: he writes reviews of Italian films/content on Netflix