Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2007 6:18 am 
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Politics and family, Italian style

Luchetti's film (Il mio fratello è figlio unico) goes from the Sixties into the Seventies in Italy following two brothers from a communist working-class family. Accio Benano, the rebellious younger one, who drops out of seminary very quickly, gives in to the constant indoctrination of a much older bus driver pal named Mario (Luca Zingaretti) and joins the fascist party. Then he falls in love with Francesca (Diane Fleri), the girlfriend (the first of a series) of his Lothario older brother Manrico (blue-eyed dreamboat Riccardo Scamarcio). Manrico becomes a leftist leader in '68 and moves on to terrorist activities in the Seventies. Accio's black-shirt cohorts cause their share of bother too, of course, but they are depicted as both inept and betraying Accio's confidence. Eventually the latter realizes he's a leftist too at heart. (He only adopted fascism because he wanted to be contrary.) This change in Accio comes almost in time to save Manrico from big trouble.

It took me a while to adjust to the shift in actors when Accio goes from early to late teens. No doubt Elio Germano was an inevitable choice for the older Accio because of his sweet, ironic presence: he's a lovely actor. But the younger actor, Vittorio Emanuele Propizio, and the incidents Accio's involved in early on, project a spirit of fun and craziness that I missed thereafter. In fact, the promise of the early sequences gets dissipated in what becomes an increasingly plodding (and overly telescoped) series of events as Accio's and Manrico's politics, love lives, and family involvements criss-cross over the years.

Reports from those who've read Antonio Pennacchi's amusingly titled novel Il fasciocommunista say the movie lightens things up, but Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli, who collaborated on the screen adaptation, seem to have gotten bogged down and too literally followed the story after those light-hearted and promising beginnings. Mind you, Petraglia and Rulli are no slouches: they also scripted the recent Criminal Romance (veteran actor Michele Placido's 2005 directorial debut, which also features Scamarcio) as well as the highly successful theatrically released TV miniseries The Best of Youth, whose decade-sweeping plot this film's somewhat echoes.

A memorable set piece shows Manrico introducing a '68 reworking of Beethovan's Ode to Joy with revolutionary lyrics. During the performance Mario's fascist hooligans move in, and their targeting his own brother leads to Accio's final break with the right.

The family's base is Latina, a town created by Mussolini south of Rome, which makes an ever-present reminder of heavy Italian legacies. Mario represents the element who refuse to erase or forget the nation's fascist past. He argues (among other things) that there's a worthwhile legacy of architecture. Indeed fascist architecture does have a certain kitsch charm one ought not reject too easily; and an inability to come to terms with the fascist past is surely one of the main reasons for Italy's muddled self-image. This story is a stab at dealing with that psychological issue in a healthy way.

My Brother Is an Only Child, which was rejected by the Cannes jury for Official Entry status, lacks the fluidity of Gabriele Muccino's Io come te nessuno mai (which, though very different, comes to mind for its blending of coming of age, family conflict, and politics) but it has a kind of vernacular vigor. It's true, Italian cinema continues to go through a largely lackluster period, and Italian film-goers appear to have been bitterly disappointed with Luchetti's latest. That's a bit of a shame, because there is a lot of charm and humanity here, and for anyone interested in Italy and its modern history, this should be required viewing.

Seen during a limited run in Paris, October 17, 2007.

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