Movie Review: 'My Brother Is an Only Child' (NR)
For Americans, the Italian film 'My Brother Is an Only Child' ('Mio fratello è filgio unico') opens a window into another world, although it's no fantasyland.
Elio Germano is Accio Benassi, an earnest, violent, confused young man growing up in the late 1960s, a turbulent era in European politics. The film is set in Latina, a city built by Mussolini, and World War II remains a looming presence.
Drawn first to the priesthood and then to the fascist movement, Accio's not always a sympathetic character, especially when he's settling political debates with his fists. Still, it's clear where this method of discourse originates, as his mother cuffs him upside the head with almost comic regularity. His difficult relationship with his older brother, Manrico, also is punctuated by blows.
Active in the Communist Party, Manrico is dashing, handsome and irresponsible, a maddening presence in Accio's life. He's played by the sleepy-eyed Riccardo Scamarcio, a hearthrob in his native Italy (and understandably so).
Fine acting from the young men, and the glowing presence of Diane Fleri as Manrico's girlfriend, Francesca, add depth and even fascination to what is, essentially, just another coming-of-age tale. Director Daniele Luchetti has an unobtrusively firm grasp on the unfolding narrative. It's hard to imagine an American movie treating issues such as worker revolt and fascism with his sure-handed touch, which remains both light and realistic.
Accio struggles through a series of family blowups and romantic frustrations. It all comes together, though, in a beautiful scene in which thugs storm a concert performed by an orchestra of idealistic young communists, who have changed the 'fascist' lyrics of Beethoven's 'Ode to Joy' into an ode to Mao and Lenin.
American audiences may find all this ideology rather foreign, but in the end, this is a movie about individual characters rather than political ideas.
- Anne Marie DiStefano