My Brother Is An Only Child
A smartly woven story of familial bonds, stretched but not broken, and a young man’s search for his sense of identity, Daniele Luchetti’s My Brother is an Only Child (hereafter: My Brother) was a surprise find for me after an average run with last year’s Italian Film Festival. Fresh, funny, and culturally intriguing this is thoughtful Italian cinema evincing a love for its country and people, warts and all.
Though touching upon the lives and situation of each member of the Benassi family the story is told primarily from the perspective of middle child and youngest son Antonio “Accio” Benassi. We find Accio at the beginning of the movie as an adolescent in the mid 1960s preparing to become a Roman Catholic priest! He spends the rest of he film jumping from one extreme of ideology to another: at one point a card carrying fascist later down the track a communist activist. Smart, principled, and somewhat acerbic – though not without his own particular charm – Accio is the antithesis of his charismatic, pheromonal older brother Manrico with whom he shares a fractious relationship.
While Manrico is self-assured and steady in his socialist politics (if not his social life) and is adored by his parents, Accio is constantly at odds with the world around him which he ultimately discovers is because he is at odds with himself. The film’s title stems from Accio’s sense of social and ideological disparity from the rest of his family, i.e. he views himself almost as an “only child”, feeling somewhat unvalued by his parents and overshadowed by the handsome, well liked, and outspoken Manrico. Ultimately, the old cliché that blood is thicker than water is proved true in My Brother but in such a way as to mitigate any excess sentimentality. Luchetti uses overt political and social divergence between the two brothers to paint a general portrait of the Italian people with this pair as a kind of split up Italian everyman.
In fact, watching this from a British influenced culture much of the family action can seem somewhat over the top, but I remember a friend who spent a year in the mid 90s as a live in nanny for a family in rural Italy telling me that it was like a miniature WWIII was blowing up in the house almost everyday. She said that though at first she felt really awkward she eventually came to realise that this was just their way of blowing off steam; the heated emotion dissipating as fast as it had arrived. That is not to say that there are no strains of melodrama evident in this picture; these are particularly apparent in the narrative shifts between the comedic and the solemn which do jar at times.
Finely honing the source material of Antonio Pennacchi’s novel Il Fasciocomunista, the director focuses the broad themes of national identity through the lens of this one family; briefly visiting key historical figures in the narrative and exploring the fingerprints left on the Italy of today. In cinematic terms the director also displays the impact of the rich cinema of Italy from the period through his filmmaking choices of shot framing, lighting and mise-en-scène. The two leads provide plenty of raw charisma and chemistry as the brothers Benassi. Elio Germano is particularly impressive as Accio, bringing to bear a frustrated independence; equal parts awkwardness and sure-footedness. Much of the film’s merit needs to be ascribed to the actors who have worked well with the very serviceable script.
In the end the power of this film is in its ability to connect with audiences across barriers of culture and language. The contradictory fragility-vs-strength of family structures and the unique dynamic found within is something that most of us can relate to at some level and this is what gives the sprawling narrative of My Brother a sense of cohesion it might otherwise have lacked. Plus the ending has a nice payoff with the brother whose political actions, whilst fervently honest, have heretofore proven somewhat ineffectual, leaving us with the most truly revolutionary act seen in the film.
DVD Info + Special Features
This single disc release of My Brother is an Only Child comes with excellent widescreen picture transfer sporting a warm colour palette and a crisp soundtrack with Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 options. Aside from the obligatory theatrical trailer there is only one featurette: an enlightening interview with director Daniele Luchetti. This interview provides some good background to both this project and also to the broader work and filmmaking philosophy of Luchetti, who comes off as thoughtful and very aware of his filmic origins. All in all a satisfactory, if slightly lean, package.
» Region 4 PAL
» 16:9 Widescreen
» Language: Italian (with English subtitles)
» Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0
» Theatrical trailer
» Interview with director Daniele Luchetti
Reviewed by: Jacob Powell
Rating: M – Contains violence, sexual references, and offensive language.
Director: Daniele Luchetti
Actors: Elio Germano, Riccardo Scamarcio, Angela Finocchiaro, Massimo Popolizio, Alba Rohrwacher, & Diane Fleri.
Dur: 99 min