My Brother is an Only Child

Revolver Entertainment and THINKFilm
Daniele Luchetti/Italy-France 2007

There was a trend for a while for movies to encapsulate the trials of an era into a single family. You know, mother discovering feminism, dad an alcoholic, daughter a hippie, while son goes to Vietnam. During My Brother is an Only Child, I found myself wondering why Italian films still do this, when the main character Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio, phwoar) read my mind. “Solidarity without art is charity,” he explains, “art without politics is a two-fisted jerk-off.”

Manrico is the oldest in a family which vehemently supports his communist activities, so it’s no wonder that little brother Accio (Vittorio Emanuele Propizio as a child, Elio Germano as an adult) becomes entranced by the alternatives: first the priesthood, then the fascist local linen-salesman Mario (Luca Zingaretti). Gloriously, Mario’s bedspread does have Mussolini’s face embroidered on it, although the circumstances in which Accio learn this ends their friendship. Director Daniele Luchetti infuses the whole film with bright sunlight and natural colors; with actors who are very easy on the eye, the film revels in its own gorgeousness. It also openly courts Italian nostalgia, with a greatest hits soundtrack and impeccable period costume design.

As Accio grows – the smash cut between his teenage and adult selves cleverly coming in a fight with Manrico – so does his political outlook. His lack of maturity is also refreshing; I especially liked the scene where he awkwardly storms back into a fascist meeting to call its chief a mafioso. Germano plays him as impetuous and self-conscious but believing fascism is the best way to do the right thing – an interesting combination. A lot of Accio’s growth is due to Manrico’s girlfriend Francesca (Diane Fleri), who is the only person who takes him seriously. Taken aback when he has to justify his beliefs beyond a childish temper tantrum, it’s easy to see why she appeals.

However, because Francesca has little more to do than watch the brothers argue, we never learn why she makes the choices she does. And despite the title, Accio and Manrico have a sister, Violetta (Alba Rohrwacher, with beautiful red hair), who is also nothing more than a satellite. What could have been a complex examination of Italy’s political divisions in the 1960s and ’70s is reduced to two brothers’ ceaseless one-upmanship. What’s more, the short-sighted and boring failure to provide the women with any depth – Mario’s wife is long-suffering/available, Francesca is long-suffering/alluring, their mother is long-suffering – chops the film off at its knees. The denouement, in which Accio finally comes out of his brother’s shadow, is smothered by our indifference to the women around him. If the whole family and their complex relationships had been fully developed, it could have been a hugely powerful metaphor.

Writers Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli (who worked with Luchetti to adapt a bestselling Italian novel), also wrote The Best of Youth, which I have mentioned previously on this site. That most excellent film covered similar themes of male friendships, differences between two brothers, and their relationships with the same woman. With a seven-hour running time, there was plenty of room to develop scope, feeling, and period set-pieces, although they still failed to make the most of their women. Rather than create a 100-minute version of The Best of Youth, it seems they chose instead to make My Brother is an Only Child. Petraglia and Rulli have now fully explored relationships between men in Italy’s recent past. Let’s see them develop scripts for women that are not quite so insufferable.

© 2008 Sarah Manvel. All rights reserved.

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