Don\’t be fooled by the melodramatic plot synopsis and walk into the theater expecting a super intense political thriller like I did. While the conflicting party politics of Italy in the 60\’s and 70\’s is a focal point of the film, Italian director Daniele Luchetti\’s MY BROTHER IS AN ONLY CHILD is by and large more of a charming coming-of-age story that takes an intimate look at the way politics affects family ties, close friendships and, most importantly, the development of one\’s self-identity.
An Official Selection at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and based on the novel, Il Fasciocommunista, written by Antonio Luchetti, the film takes place in the small Italian town of Latina and centers around Accio Benassi (Elio Germano), who, much to the dismay of his older brother, Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio), is influenced by his good friend and mentor, Mario (Luca Zingaretti), to join the reactionary Fascist party. Manrico, on the other hand, is heavily involved in the local Communist party, which his girlfriend, Francesca (the beautiful Diane Fleri), whom Accio is secretly in love with, is also a member of. The turning point occurs when Accio must choose between loyalty to his brother or commitment to Mario and his newfound Fascist friends.
All of the film\’s performances are top notch. Elio Germano plays the bumbling young Accio perfectly, compelling us to curse at his stubborn stupidity at times and to cheer for his brave heroism at others.
Riccardo Scamarcio, who I can\’t help but think resembles a more somber-looking Adrien Grenier, gives Manrico a resolute strength and passion to his cause with an easy finesse that we can\’t help but admire. Not to be overlooked are Massimo Popolizio, Angela Finocchiaro and Alba Rohrwacher who round out the Benassi family as the brothers\’ parents and sister. The family dynamics are simply fantastic, with the arguments and interactions of daily life incredibly awkward (it\’s almost a little too intimate), yet amusing to watch. The realism of the relationships, which we only seem to find in dark, gritty independent films these days, is actually rather light-hearted and fun.
With both serious and humorous aspects, the film provides a vivid glimpse into the life of Italian society during that era, and the music wonderfully enhances the various moods that pervade the storyline. Luchetti uses both original and slightly revamped versions of songs from the 60s – simple tunes that help transport us to both a different culture and a different time but evoke such emotions as heartache and betrayal that are universally experienced.
Overall, MY BROTHER IS AN ONLY CHILD is well worth watching as long as you don\’t go in expecting life-changing ideas. It\’s definitely not a movie I felt profoundly impacted by and spent days after
contemplating, but the characters are interesting, and I enjoyed watching Accio mature from a somewhat silly, indecisive boy into a more confident and self-assured man and how politics eventually took its toll on Manrico. This film probably holds more meaning for those who grew up in the 60\’s and 70\’s and lived in a time where Communist and Fascist ideals were more widely embraced, but the rest of us can still benefit from the small history lesson and chuckle and grimace along with the Benassi family.