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My Brother is an Only Child

My Brother is an Only Child
ThinkFilm / Image
2007 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic widescreen / 104 min. / Mio fratello è figlio unico / Street Date August 5, 2008 / 27.98
Starring Elio Germano, Riccardo Scamarcio, Diane Fleri, Angela Finocchiaro, Luca Zingaretti, Anna Bonaiuto
Cinematography Claudio Collepiccolo
Production Design Francesco Costantino
Film Editor Mirco Garrone
Original Music Franco Piersanti
Written by Danielle Luchetti, Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli from the novel Il Fasciocomunista by Antonio Pennacchi
Produced by Marco Chimenz, Giovanni Stablini, Riccardo Tozzi
Directed by Daniele Luchetti

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Don't be confused by the soft-sell packaging -- the youthful Italian lovers in Danielle Luchetti's My Brother is an Only Child are involved in a serious drama set against the unstable politics of the 1960s. Luchetti simplifies Antonio Penacchi's novel Il Fasciocomunista into a story of sibling activists who adopt conflicting ideologies. The biggest surprise of Mio fratello è figlio unico is its refusal to endorse either brother's political stance. It instead indulges a heavy nostalgia for the turbulent past.

The tale begins in family comedy mode, introducing a confused, uncontrollable teenager who can't distinguish between Italy's destiny and his personal problems. Some critics thought Luchetti's film superficial and compared it unfavorably to La meglio gioventù (The Best of Youth), a more sweeping panorama of trends in modern Italy from the same screenwriters, Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli. But My Brother is an Only Child fascinates as a coming-of-age story set in a nation with strong political divisions ... a situation holding a lot in common with today's United States.

Teenaged brothers Accio and Manrico Benassi (as adults, Elio Germano & Riccardo Scamarcio) live in Latina, a factory town founded by Mussolini's fascists. Seminary dropout Accio's foul mouth and troublemaking attitude are only made worse when he's introduced to the neo-fascist movimento by truck driver Mario Nastri (Luca Zingaretti). By contrast, older brother Manrico champions the labor cause and is soon involved in communist politics. Manrico also attracts the girls, including the beautiful and independent Francesca (Diane Fleri). Manrico and his French co-ed Francesca carry on their torrid romance barely a curtain away from Accio, who channels his hormonal envy into fascist activities. While getting to know Francesca, Accio boasts of his personal involvement in hooliganism targeting local communists. He can't understand why she isn't impressed.

My Brother is an Only Child is a political film that doesn't insult the intelligence of its audience. Mother (Angela Finocchiaro) judges Accio against the admired Manrico, who no sooner wins a factory job than he wants to organize his fellow laborers. But Accio is the more committed idealist; he judges himself too harshly to continue studying for the priesthood. Fascist principles appeal because they speak of a romantic national destiny. Accio deceives himself into the belief that taking the bus to Rome to throw eggs at a convention of Communist leaders is a noble activity. But he draws the line when his fascist leaders plan to target Manrico, just to "teach him a lesson".

Director and writer Daniele Luchetti sketches the wider political context but keeps the drama at the personal level. Accio allows himself to be seduced by Mario Nastri's neglected wife Bella (Anna Bonaiuto), a realist who treats her husband's fascist activities like a nuisance hobby. But Manrico is no angel either. He's notoriously unfaithful to Francesca while pursuing a career as an inspirational communist student leader.

Signor Luchetti has voiced an admiration for the filming style of director John Cassavetes. His own scenes are tightly scripted to give an impression of spontaneity. Meanwhile, he's also communicating the contradictions of both political poles. The fascist thugs claim to be the rightful inheritors of Roman glory, but they only seem interested in spreading hatred and provoking fights. A communist meeting is a mass of zealots, each shouting his opinion and listening to none. Speaking at a classical concert to honor striking students, Manrico is surrounded by adoring female co-eds, for whom the revolution may only be sexual. What the strike accomplishes is unclear, but the crowd thrills when the lyrics to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" are replaced by insipid Marxist sloganeering for Lenin and Chairman Mao.

The period after the strike of May '68 connects My Brother is an Only Child with the era of radical splinter groups, some of which terrorized Italy into the 70s with kidnappings and executions. Living as a fugitive, Manrico is trying to support Francesca and their new baby in secret. Still behind the curve of events, Accio attempts to contact his brother and inadvertently precipitates a disaster.

Actor Elio Germano's detailed portrait of a mixed up teen zealot earned him a Best Actor Donatello, while Angela Finocchiaro won for Best Supporting Actress as his long-suffering mother. Riccardo Scamarcio's populist charmer hits his character squarely on target with substantially less screen time. Diane Fleri is both tinder for the fires of youth and a reminder that families and radical activities can be a perilous mix. My Brother is an Only Child may seem superficial on some counts, and may send the questionable message that all political activism leads to radical extremes. But it succeeds strongly as dramatic entertainment.

ThinkFilm and Image's DVD of My Brother is an Only Child is a handsome enhanced color transfer with very clear audio. The Italian language track is subtitled in English. The presentation is preceded by three promos; the one extra is an effective trailer for the American release.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
My Brother is an Only Child rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Very good +
Sound: Excellent
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 24, 2008

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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