“All who come near me have a bleak fate.”
The DVD cover of Director Antonio Hernandez’s lavish production, Los Borgia (The Borgia) promises a lot of blood, but instead this surprisingly good and engrossing film takes a long hard look at the ambitious Borgia clan through the lives of its greatest, most infamous characters: patriach Rodrigo Borgia (Lluis Homar), Cesar Borgia (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) and Lucrecia Borgia (Maria Valverde). I am using the spelling of the names as used in the film, by the way. The sets are magnificent and the costumes are sumptuous. If you enjoy historical films or are at all curious about The Borgia, then seek out a copy of this colourful film.
When the film begins, the power of the Borgias is waning, and then the scene segues into the past–twelve years before–with the election of Cardinal Borgia to the highly coveted, powerful and lucrative position of Pope. As Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo rules from the vatican, slotting his bastard children into power spots. While Juan (Sergio Muniz) becomes the Duke of Gandia, Cesar becomes a most unsuitable cardinal. And Cesar seethes with jealousy as his brothers marry and go off to battle while he stays in Rome wearing the scarlet robes of a cardinal.
The film charts the Borgias’ phenomenal rise to power through land grab, murder and marriage. Most of the carnage takes place off screen in this character-driven film. Wise choice given with the subject matter. It helps to keep the characters straight by brushing up a little on your Borgia history before starting the film. Characters include Sancha of Aragorn (Linda Batista), Burkard (Roberto Alvarez), Cardinal Della Rovere (Eusebio Poncela), Perotto (Diego Martin) and Caterina Sforza (Paz Vega). As with most historical films based on fact, the plot plays with some elements and condenses others.
History hasn’t been kind to the Borgias, and the film makes this point through its portrayal of Lucrecia. Lucrecia was married off three times–all political matches–and when politics changed, well Lucrecia’s spouses had to go too. Some tales colour Lucrecia as a ruthless woman who was as murderous as her brother and father, but this film portrays Lucrecia sympathetically as “currency” used by her family to further their political ambitions. The historical allegations of incest lodged against Lucrecia are addressed by incidents depicted in the film, and scenes portray Cesar and Lucrecia’s deep love and loyalty to one another. But again history hasn’t been kind to Lucrecia–according to some tales, she bore a bastard child when locked up in a convent, and this perpetuated the incest rumours. And while it was all part of the Borgia plan to continually marry Lucrecia off as un-soiled goods, it didn’t help that both her father and her brother claimed the child as their own (by another mother, of course).
The film makes it clear that Rodrigo operates with a vast ambitious plan to rule Italy in mind. All the Borgias realize that they are a part of history, referring to the family as an organic force rather than as individual members. And, of course, as pope, Rodrigo makes sure that “god’s will” conveniently coincides with his own ambitious plans. There’s one scene that takes place within the vatican. It’s an orgy of sorts, and naked girls frolic and dance with Lucrecia. Rodrigo has a great line about beauty being one of God’s greatest gifts. Everything: murder, power grabs, rape, orgies–well it all fits right along with god’s plans for The Borgia.
While Machiavelli admired Cesar Borgia’s skills as a tactician and wrote his book The Prince with Cesar as its model, here Cesar is portrayed as a psycho. The act of stabbing people in the back through the heart, in other men would be seen as murderous or cowardly, but Cesar, as son of the pope, gets immediate absolution no matter the crime. Cesar’s knee-jerk reaction to insults hint at mental imbalance (and his case of Syphilis is mentioned). Several scenes show Cesar pushing his father’s ambition along into new brutal solutions. There’s little here to hint at any traits that inspired Machiavelli’s admiration for Cesar’s intelligence and wiliness. Instead the film takes the approach that Cesar is unleashed to commit state crimes using his father’s power. And that he has a glorious time doing it while others wait to seize power back from The Borgia.