Image Entertainment // 2007 // 104 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // August 18th, 2008
Two brothers. Two political movements. One girl.
"My mother voted for the house party. She saw the word 'house' on the ballot, and hoped that they would give her a free one."
This is the story of two brothers living in Italy during the turbulent 1960s. Accio (Vittorio Emanuele Propizio) is a young teen who suffers from an exceptionally large case of Catholic guilt. When he "commits a sin" by pleasuring himself while looking at a picture of an actress, he goes to his priest for confession. "Six Hail Marys, six Our Fathers," says the priest. "That's not enough," Accio insists, "I should be truly punished!" Accio's motorcycle-riding older brother Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio. The Best of Youth) is a true rebel. He sleeps with girls without shame and dismisses all thoughts of religion. As Accio grows up (and is played by Elio Germano, Napoleon and Me), he determines that Italy is lacking standards and determines to join the Fascist party. Manrico joins the Communist party, which causes a good deal of conflict between the brothers. To make matters even more complicated, both young men find themselves in love with the same young French woman (Diane Fleri). Can they resolve this conflict before they wind up killing each other?
This film is a lot more fun than it probably should be. You might not guess it from looking at the cover, or from reading the description on the packaging, which paint the film as a sweet and lovable coming-of-age story. My Brother Is an Only Child is an Italian film filled with vigor and bite, spotlighting fiercely dynamic characters and a real sense of wit. Accio is a young man who is quite aware that everything in his life is a charade...yet he is also completely determined to maintain that charade. "We were raised the old-fashioned way," he tells us. "Belts, whippings. That's why I turned out so well." Meanwhile, Manrico does everything in his power to make his Communist party belief system mesh with his defiantly anti-authoritarian personality.
The film uses these controversial political elements as fuel for a slyly entertaining black comedy (which poses as a coming-of-age story). As a young teen, Accio tells a Fascist leader, "I am prepared to do anything necessary." The man glares at Accio. "Then go play." Accio raises his hand in salute. "I obey, sir." Everyone in the cast plays this material so well, turning what should be a tragic story into a mercilessly funny comedy. I say "mercilessly" because you know you shouldn't laugh at what is taking place (a family is falling apart at the seams; death is hanging around the corner at every turn), but the film simply won't let you off the hook by being unfunny.
What's more remarkable is that we actually do end up caring about the characters a great deal, despite a notable lack of sentiment. These characters feel like real people, even if their thoughts and beliefs are remarkably un-P.C. at times. These two confused and angry young men are so pathetically misguided that one can't help but pity them, particularly as you watch them tear each other apart. The performances of Germano, Scamarcio, and Fleri are all sharp and hit just the right notes. However, the character of Accio probably is the most interesting. There's a scene in which his sister is angry at a boyfriend, and she turns to Accio, because he's the brother who is willing to beat people up. "It's always handy to have a Fascist in the family," Accio observes. "It's kind of like having a doctor." I could continue to spend quite a long time listing funny moments of humor and delicious lines of dialogue, but I will leave most of those for you to discover for yourself.
The set design is impressive, convincingly placing us in 1960s Italy. The score by Franco Piersanti is also quite interesting. It doesn't dive into the action or characters, but instead stays outside the proceedings, slyly commenting on all the proceedings from a wryly detached point of view. The violent riots between the Fascists and the Communists are not underscored with the expected wailing female vocals, but with prancing scherzos that seem to be devilishly delighted by the conflict.
If you can't accept the tone of the film, you may find this a very irritating viewing experience. The movie requests permission to treat a very serious part of Italian history as the subject of comedy, and probably would have preferred this film to be a straightforward drama. Also, the movie tends to drag a little bit during the second hour, when it decides to develop a somewhat duller edge.
Additionally, the transfer here is really pretty miserable. Dark scenes tend to be slightly incoherent, and the image looks sloppy and rough. Honestly, I must say that I've been unimpressed by a lot of THINKFilm's transfers, and have become increasingly hesitant to pick up their DVD releases because of that. Sound is fine, though hardly attention-grabbing. The only really disappointing scene in the sound department is a hilariously "fascism-free" performance of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," in which the sound seems a bit pinched (otherwise it's a great scene). There are no DVD extras of any sort, which is disappointing.
My Brother Is an Only Child is a funny, smart, and subversively joyful viewing experience. You know what? It actually wound up moving me a good deal more than a lot of films that try ten times as hard to do so. Despite being a little uneven at times, this one is an easy recommendation. However, the poor transfer and the absence of supplements may suggest that a rental would be a better option than a purchase.
The film is not guilty; THINKFilm is ordered to get their act together and
start providing solid transfers immediately.
Review content copyright © 2008 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Italian)
Running Time: 104 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R