My Brother Is an Only Child (***)
Daniele Luchetti’s My Brother Is an Only Child (Mio Fratello è Figlio Unico) will suffer from inevitable comparisons to Bertolucci, whose high-period films remain the gold standard for art films about Italian revolutionaries. Indeed, Luchetti’s film is so close in theme to Bertolucci that it would seem redundant were it not for a slight tweak in context: instead of the ’40s, My Brother gives us the Republican ’60s, when Mussolini’s legacy was present in the fascist-nationalist MSI party and vehemently rejected by the popular Communist Party.
This divide is illustrated in Luchetti’s film through the lives of two brothers. The eldest, Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio), is a self-righteous leftist who tries and fails to shape the ideological tendencies of the younger, Accio (Elio Germano)—an anxious Catholic as a boy, who grows up putting Il Duce in place of His Holiness. Luchetti and screenwriters Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli—who wrote the acclaimed The Best of Youth (2003)—know how to make the most of this allegory: Accio’s masculine insecurities as the baby of the family are projected onto his view of Italy as wrongfully disgraced and deposed by the Allies; Manrico’s pride as his parents’ first-born makes him want to act as shepherd to the entire country. Both feel ashamed of their working-class origins. Particularly intriguing are the Freudian suggestions that a mother, and in turn her offspring’s sexual habits, are impetus for political affiliation. Manrico is coddled while Accio is spurned and chastised; Manrico is a Don Juan while Accio is a repressed cynic.
There is a twist three-quarters of the way into My Brother Is an Only Child that partners the brothers, but this doesn’t necessarily make the film better. The twist is Bertoluccian, especially in its depiction of a botched terrorist act, but it is not as mannered or as clever in its execution. My Brother Is an Only Child is most memorable as a series of vignettes. One doesn’t expect its siblings to accomplish much, and when they do, however sloppy it is, they become caricatures of political extremism, rather than plausible actors within it.
My Brother Is an Only Child is now playing at The Royal (608 College St.).