Mio fratello è figlio unico [My Brother is an Only Child] (Daniele Luchetti, 2007, Italy / France)

Antonio Pennacchi’s novel Il Fasciocomunista is brought to the big screen with subtlety, and no little wit, by director Daniele Luchetti, whose unflashy, intimate style of filmmaking gives this story of fraternal disharmony the space it needs to breathe without veering into oversentimentality.

The story concerns two brothers, ‘Accio’ and Manrico, played with suitable brotherly friction by the effervescent Elio Germano and the swoonsome Riccardo Scamarcio respectively. Manrico is the older and more stable of the two, unreliable in his relationships but a dedicated communist agitator. Accio, by contrast, is more introverted and unpredictable; expelled from his priest training school he returns to the family home and, searching for some direction in his life, soon falls in with the local neo-fascist party.

The ideological divide between the brothers creates friction, but they are strangely pulled together again by the arrival on the scene of Manrico’s beautiful girlfriend Francesca, a fellow communist sympathiser. Although clearly attracted to the more handsome, driven older brother, she also sees something in his quiter, less confident but more likeable younger brother, despite their political differences.

As the film rumbles on, the pace quickens, and the initially harmless political events the brothers are involved in quickly escalate into violence, sabotage, and minor acts of terrorism. What started as a conflict of ideas becomes all-too dangerous, and the political begins to affect the personal; in one crucial scene, Manrico, having discovered that Accio’s fascist colleagues are planning to torch both his and his fellow communists’ cars, asks his younger brother if he was going to warn him about it – he is slow to respond, and unconvincingly so, leaving the older brother shocked at what their differing ideologies can lead to.

While there is a little of the political background sketched out, there is not the grand sweep of a film such as Romanzo Criminale (2005), which sought to dramatize some of the larger events of the terrorism years in Italy such as the kidnapping of Aldo Moro and the bombing of the Bologna train station. Instead, the focus is much more smaller-scale, concentrating on the effect of the polar radicalization of Italian politics within one family unit. Director Daniele Luchetti utilizes an intimate filming style, relying on close-ups and not favouring long establishing shots, creating an atmosphere that seems much more personal, and human. In this sense, the influence of Luchetti’s mentor, Nanni Moretti, is most keenly felt.

One aspect of the film which surprised me was just how light the tone was; I was expecting something more dry, more politically pointed, but what comes across is a real light-heartedness, especially in the film’s earlier scenes before things start majorly hitting the fan. Much of this should be attributed to the wonderfully comic performance of Elio Germano, surely a European superstar of the future; his nuanced, physical performance creates an Accio both emotionally adrift yet immensely likeable, in contrast to his more sombre, stiff older brother. Riccardo Scamarcio plays the straight-man well, though is asked of a lot less than his co-star. Supports are uniformly well-cast, most memorably for me the superb Anna Bonaiuto, who plays an older woman whom Accio develops a particularly unwise relationship with.

Italian cinema is at a crossroads; there are still some great filmmakers around, most notably the aforementioned Nanni Moretti, and new talents such as Paolo Sorrentino (L’Amico di famiglia, Le Conseguenze dell’amore) and Emanuele Crialese (Respiro, Nuovomondo) getting widespread acclaim and arthouse recognition. But there are also a host of hangers-on, the likes of Giuseppe Tornatore and Roberto Benigni, who are clogging up the system and perhaps preventing further new talents from emerging and being allowed space to breathe. As long as careful, well-made, thoughtful films such as Mio fratello è figlio unico are able to be produced and released to a Europe-wide audience, then perhaps the system can be encouraged to look to the future of filmmaking, rather than the past.

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