Friday, May 2, 2008
My Brother is an Only Child is based on a novel by Antonio Pennacchi, entitled Il Fasciocomunista. Luchetti insists that his film doesn't take a political stand but rather focuses on people who do. One of those taking a stand is Accio, who's enrolled in the seminary. We find him praying in the rain, begging god to make Khrushchev renounce communism.But Accio's extremism gets him expelled. When he returns to his working class home, he wastes no time engaging his older brother in verbal and physical fights
Through a clever bit of editing, the teenage Accio gets his head dunked in a sink of water, and when he pops his head back up, he's a grown man. Years have past but little has changed between the brothers. Manrico has become the charismatic leader of the town's communist party. Meanwhile, Accio joins the fascist party. But his actions seem more a rebellious reaction to his family's leftist beliefs than a reflection of his own ideals. UCSD professor Pasquale Verdicchio says that the family offers a perfect microcosm of Italian politics: "So within the family itself there is a communist brother, there is a Christian democrat father, and then there is a fascist brother. That split is evident and represents Italy in all its contradictions."
Communism, fascism and the Church is a trinity that still resonates for Italy today. Verdicchio says that My Brother is an Only Child explores politics as not only a social struggle but an internal and personal one as well.
Politics are further complicated by the introduction of a young woman that both Accio and Manrico fall in love with. (THINKFilm)
"The brother who adheres to fascism does not really have a clear idea of why he wants to be a fascist," Verdicchio explains, "He feels that no one in the family likes him and he's trying to find a way to address being a part of a family while at the same time he is not part of it so he seems to be looking for a family and that's what attracts him to fascism."
That attraction was also addressed in the French film Lacombe, Lucien , where a boy's need for acceptance drives him to the fascist party. Luchetti's film similarly suggests that those who feel "excluded" can be easy prey for extremist groups. Accio is one of those excluded who Luchetti says, "Had taken the bad path, who had obeyed superficial orders only because they were searching for an identity or for a friend who would listen to them... This & 'human' key, not necessarily political, allowed me to find my own personal and emotional path in building this story."
The film also pays homage to such classic Italian films as Before the Revolution and Fists in Pocket that Verdicchio calls "fundamental pieces in Italian film and social history. They're among the first to address the issues of dissatisfaction with the status quo, and put forth the notions of a revolutionary culture that seems to have failed in the first attempt proposed in the immediate post World War II period. And fascism was not, as many might like to put forth, an aberration. It did last 20 years [in Italy] and is still active today. Though many Italians might not like to admit it fascism seems to be an integral part of the Italian psyche, that's why this new film and Before the Revolution and Fists in the Pocket are so important. But My Brother is an Only Child is the first film in a long time to bring the working class back into the discussion. This film is about two working class brothers and so it resituates politics at that level which is very important."
My Brother is an Only Child (THINKFilm)
Actor Elio Germano brings Accio to vivid life. Accio's intelligent and has a certain sensitivity but too often expresses himself with violence. He loves his brother but hates his politics. As Manrico, Italian heartthrob Riccardo Scamarcio provides the perfect foil and contrast. His Manrico may have a darker sense of ego but he displays an ease with people that Accio lacks. Accio envies the way his brother can enthrall a crowd, including the young girls.
Pasquale Verdicchio serves as one of the artistic directors of the San Diego Italian Film Festival, which launched in October of last year. Since then the organization has been hosting free public sccreenings of Italian films, many of which explore similar themes of family and politics. Verdicchio says My Brother is an Only Child reflects the current mood in Italy although the labels of communism and fascism may need updating.
"Actually there's a line in the film that spoke directly to the contemporary political situation. The brother Accio, his mentor Mario at a certain point says, 'It's incredible all of Italy was fascist but as soon as the war was over you couldn't find a fascist anywhere. Nobody would admit to being a fascist.' Although there was a lot of resistance obviously Mussolini was kept in power by a large number of the population. And the same thing happens today. After [Silvio] Berlusconi won the last time you couldn't find anybody who would have admitted to having voted for him. That resonated very much in this film; that it was a very contemporary statement about Italian politics. So there is a dissatisfaction with both the left and the right. And this film does represent a dissatisfaction with both, neither the left nor the right, the communists or the fascists, come out really looking as the answer, and the way that politics has developed today in Italy neither the left nor the right is able to provide a clear answer to the continuing crisis economic and otherwise."
My Brother is an Only Child (unrated but for mature audiences and in Italian with English subtitles) doesn't provide any answers but rather serves up a provocative mix of humor, politics and family. Although familiarity with Italian politics helps in appreciating this film, anyone can enjoy this energetic tale of a house divided.
Companion viewing: Best of Youth, Before the Revolution, Fist in Pockets, The Conformist , and Lacombe, Lucien