Here’s your only ever chance to watch someone kick the shit out of somebody else while shouting “since when do you give a fuck about Beethoven?!”
Daniele Luchetti’s movie My Brother Is An Only Child tells the story of two brothers growing up in an Italian smalltown in the 60s. Manrico gets laid and joins the local communist movement while his younger brother Accio doesn’t get laid and becomes a neo-fascist bully. So far, so familiar, but changes are underway.
Initially attracted to the fascists by their radical posturing, uncompromising methods, and the strong sense of social justice they seem to espouse, Accio eventually learns they aren’t the revolutionaries they claim to be. When local commies perform a hilarious leftist take of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy in concert, they face a violent attack by a fascist troupe (“leave Beethoven alone!”). Accio recognizes the fascists for the scared little arch-conservatives they really are, anxiously holding on to brittle myths of European male superiority when the zeitgeist threatens to kick them off their imaginary pedestal. For a little while, he then dabbles in his brother’s communist group. But ultimately, he cannot seem to muster up enough faith in the revolutionary potential of a working class of which he preceives his God-fearing, Christian Democrat father as a typical example. Meanwhile, Manrico proves that he really means it by becoming an urban terrorist in Turin and has to face the consequences of that choice.
A love triangle is thrown in for good measure, and the disappointingly limp and family-friendly message at the end seems to be: political radicalism leads to no good, your family is what really counts because blood bonds never fade. When Accio stages a petty rebellion against the corrupt housing council, the movie seems to say that with a bit of courage and initiative, you can change little things for the better without actually having to go ‘too far’.
Vague links are drawn between Accio’s sexually repressive Catholic upbringing and his later turn to far-right politics, such as fascism generally seems to serve as a sort of psychological life raft when heterosexual manhood fails. The local wannabe Duce is stuck in a sexless relationship with a woman that married him out of pity. When the inexperienced Accio gets to shag her, he begins to drop his fascist attitudes very quickly. If this looks simplistic on paper, it’s because it is. Maybe the film should have taken the time to examine such aspects more closely in order for them to appear more plausible.
What My Brother Is An Only Child really succeeds at is making us root for its protagonists no matter what politics they espouse. Because Accio seems righteous enough as a character, I had no difficulties mustering up a great deal of sympathy for what looked like naive, taboo-breaking rebellion. Which of course begs the question: where exactly is the point in this kind of wishy-washy liberal fimmaking that prompts us to look at fascist activism from an understanding, even sympathetic “boys will be boys” point of view?
That said, My Brother Is An Only Child is a persistently high-energy movie. It draws most of its steam from the first rate performances -aside from the two leads, Angela Finocchiaro as Accio’s mother stands out in particular- and the sheer Italianness of it all. If you’re prepared to look at the political backdrop only in terms of its entertainment value, you will find a classic coming-of-age story with huge chunks of 60s nostalgia thrown in. My Brother generates a genuine warmth in an old-fashioned way and only turns a tad sentimental at the end.
Based on the novel ‘Il Fasciocomunista’ by Antonio Pennacchi and shot in 2007, My Brother Is An Only Child is out in UK cinemas now.