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By James Teitelbaum | October 31, 2009

This vignette by Michael Fischa shows us a key moment in Roman history: the murder of young Tiberius by the generals in command of his army. Tiberius is arrogant, naive, idealistic, and rather stupid. When he orders the death of one of the generals for a minor slip of the tongue (the man is trying to insure the safety of his men), a small rebellion occurs. With varying degrees of enthusiasm, the men form a pact that will change the destiny of the Roman empire. Their new cabal is called “Ma’fia.”

“Roma Sub Rosa” was shot economically on a single set, Tiberius’ battlefield tent. The set was lit by Barry Stone in candle light, giving the film a flickery, grainy look. A few more candles or cheating in a few subtle ambient lights might have helped clean up the look a little bit. But the visuals are secondary here to the drama, which is well-paced and tightly scripted.

Unfortunately, the people reading the words on this script turn in performances that range from acceptable to miserable. (And it is true that many of the people on screen seem to be simply reading the script more than acting.) At the bottom of the heap is Ty Kopp as Tiberius; however, the other end of the spectrum is occupied by star (and co-producer) Jim Thalman as Scipio, the man responsible for the young official’s demise.

Quibbles about performance and lighting aside, “Roma Sub Rosa’s” peek into the final moments of Tiberius is not an entirely unworthy way to spend twenty-eight minutes.

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