The Family that Revolts Together, Stays Together

    {grate 3/4} Two decades after the collapse of Italy’s
    fascist regime, progress has shrunk into nonexistence and once again
    revolutionary politics are beginning to attract the inspiration of a new
    generation. “My Brother is an Only Child,” a new film directed by Daniele
    Luchetti, follows two adolescent brothers as they mature in their
    relationships, ideologies and fractious fraternity while contending with the
    dialectical views of the other.

    Living in the provincial enclave of Latina,
    the ’60s and ’70s have accomplished little in reconstructing the country’s
    worn-down towns and collecting its dispersed nationalism. The eldest brother,
    Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio), becomes the voice of change early on when he
    allies himself with Italy’s
    emergent communist party.

    Coupled with his charismatic personage and ardent passion
    for revolutionary change, Manrico is idolized by his younger brother, Accio
    (Elio Germano). Imitating his brother’s fondness for powerful ideas, Accio
    channels his bellicose personality elsewhere into fascism, like so many
    hyper-masculine nationalist thugs before him.

    Unique to foreign films, this distinctive brand of European
    sibling rivalry is typified by the biting barbs of political manifestos — an
    interesting contrast to the sarcastic flippancy common in the American
    household. Wielding ideological insults as well as a punch or two when words
    aren’t effective, the film moves beyond the squalor as Accio develops an
    interest in his brother’s girlfriend Franscesca (Diane Fleri). As the years
    march on, what begins as a family’s disparity accelerates into a nation’s
    contrarian paradigm.

    Luchetti’s attention to the magnetic attraction between
    revolutionary ideas and the fervor of youth is the film’s threading theme.
    Unlike many directors who were themselves the revolutionary youth of Manrico’s
    generation, Luchetti utilizes a slightly more conservative style akin to modern
    social realism. If indeed Manrico lies at the left end of the spectrum and
    Accio at the right, Luchetti’s artistic style straddles the dichotomy in the
    middle.

    Throughout Accio’s political socialization he capriciously
    shifts, desperately using politics to shape his identity. Beginning with the
    innocence of religious fanaticism, when Accio reaches puberty and his
    rebellious years, the ideology that best defines him becomes his party of
    choice: fascism. Although the story’s structure becomes repetitive, the second
    half picks up as Accio reaches the point of disillusionment: “They say you get
    better with age, but I was just aging.” Yet, while one brother struggles to
    find himself in the morass of political doctrine, the other characteristically
    breeds militancy.

    Manrico’s predictable development is tailored to the costume
    of the archetypal revolutionary. Rather than capitulate to disillusionment with
    his political affiliations, he readjusts his ideas by becoming even more
    radical (shocking) and blending his stagnant diplomacy with the immediacy of
    violence. An obvious foil to the film’s protagonist, Manrico’s story becomes
    transparently trite; as Jean-Luc Godard would articulate more succinctly after
    his own involvement with radical politics, “To kill a man for an idea, is to
    kill a man.”

    Although the film lacks the artistic exuberance of Italian
    directors such as Bernardo Bertolucci (“The Dreamers”) who have dealt with
    similar themes, “My Brother”’s intimate framework balances its lack of
    stylistic originality, since it’s clearly not promoting a radical approach. Far
    less concerned with new wave aesthetics, the portrayal of family relationships
    rescues the picture from arthouse sterility; the maturation of its characters
    is refracted and inflected by the family dynamic which simultaneously anchors
    it throughout. Even when the story reveals itself as contrived by the end, its
    poignancy is incubated by the focal point of the family at its core.

    Punctuated by confectionary humor throughout, “My Brother is
    an Only Child” never stops following its characters’ thoughts, movements and
    developments — no matter how circular they may be. As seen in the turmoil of
    one family, youth is finally restored to its proper place — outside the
    political binaries — and within the relationships that bind us.

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