My Brother is an Only Child

Jul 16, 2008 at 12:00 am

There's something special about the way Italians yell at each other. Loud and passionate, filled with equal amounts of outraged annoyance and bottomless affection. To the unprepared, it sounds like a whole lotta noise. And so, depending on your tolerance for hair-trigger, Old World rancor, Daniele Luchetti's generational portrait of youth, politics and love will either irritate or entertain you.

It's the volatile 1960s, and hotheaded young Accio Benassi (Elio Germano) is looking for something to believe in and belong to. Smart but violently contrary, Accio bounces from the seminary to neo-fascism to, eventually, communism, all while disappointing his working-class parents, sleeping with his Mussolini-loving friend's wife and pining for his brother's girlfriend. In contrast, older sibling Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio) is the dreamy apple of everyone's eye. Limited and unreliable but gifted with a silver tongue, he becomes a militant leftist hero while betraying the bottomless love of his on-again, off-again girlfriend Francesca (Diane Fleri).

The familial frustrations and conflicts that infect the Benassi brothers result in endless confrontations, boiling into a metaphor for the social and political turmoil of the era; a time when crooked politicians brazenly cheated the lower classes and thuggish violence became the vocabulary of both the left and the right.

It's a compelling backdrop for a coming-of-age tale, and all the performances are first-rate. But when you consider the rocky waters actor Germano navigates with the potentially unlikable Accio, it's astonishing to see what he pulls off. Lesser mortals would fail miserably, but Germano — like an early Robert De Niro — finds a sympathetic character in Accio's loyalties, longings and capacity for violence. Embracing the maze of passions, inconsistencies and contradictions that plague his character, Germano creates an internal consistency that keeps us wholly engaged.

Director Luchetti does a terrific job of re-creating the look and feel of the time but his too-close handheld shots, like the movie itself, are never able to get a handle on the big picture. While the connections between family tumult and political upheaval are convincingly drawn, Accio's story is unfocused and inconclusive. It's hard to tell if Luchetti is trying to comment on the pitfalls of blind ideology, present an interfamilial love triangle, or compare the struggles of these sparring brothers with the social unrest of the '60s and '70s.

As My Brother is an Only Child meanders toward its conclusion it becomes clear that the filmmaker never figured out what kind of story he wanted to tell. As a result, the film's final confrontation is as much for Manrico as it is for Accio. Maybe, seduced like the women in the film, Luchetti couldn't help but swing the focus back toward the better-looking brother. Or maybe, self-sabotaged like the generation he was born into, Accio is unable to ever truly come of age, and thus no conclusion can ever be reached. Which is, unfortunately, as unsatisfying in film as it is in life.

Showing at the Detroit Film theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit) at 7 and 9:30 p.m. on Friday July 18, and Saturday, July 19. It shows at 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 20. Call 313-833-3237 for more info.

Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].