Family crisis, revolution and conflict

Two brothers at opposing sides of the political spectrum.

My Brother Is An Only Child is the spectacular new film from Italian writer-director Daniele Luchetti, who was discovered at Cannes in 1991 with his film, The Yes Man. Daniele’s wide-ranging career has seen him direct and co-write ten films including Ginger and Cinnamon (2003) and School (1995).

My Brother Is An Only Child is a loose adaptation of the novel Il Fasciocomunista (2003) by Antonio Pennacchi, a former factory worker. Daniele co-wrote the script with Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli; they have previously co-written six other films as a team. My Brother Is An Only Child follows the lives of two brothers, Accio and Manrico. Accio (Elio Germano) is the source of his parent’s desperation; he is opinionated, impulsive and a trouble-maker who fights every battle like a war. Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio) is handsome, passionate, charismatic and adored by all who meet him. However, he is just as explosive as Accio. In the Italian small town life of the 1960s and 1970s, the two brothers grow up with opposite political beliefs and are in love with the same woman, Francesca (Diane Fleri). Accio develops an affinity with local neo-fascists who idolise Mussolini, while Manrico aligns himself with the radical left and even leads strikes at the factory where he works. My Brother Is An Only Child gives the audience an experience of the adventures of two brothers who are very different, yet so alike. They live through a period filled with escape and fighting, in Accio’s case reassessing his beliefs, as fifteen years of Italian history pass by.

My Brother Is An Only Child is a skilfully shot film featuring scenic views of the Italian landscape while telling the story of a family during a poignant time in Italian history. Daniele comments, “I was really interested in adapting Il Fasciocomunista for three reasons. In 1968, during the year of revolution, we see life from the point of view of Accio, who misses the revolution, because he is a fascist. The second reason was because there is a strong narrative in the book, as it is a true story. The events are real and do not have an ideological basis. Every time I see films, or read stories about fascists the story is always trying to demonstrate an ideological position. My Brother Is An Only Child is not a political film. It is a film about human beings who love, suffer, laugh and who are also involved with politics. The film does not take a political stand: it talks about people who take stands. I believe this was my key – finding the human element, which is personal and emotional at the core. The third powerful idea that attracted me to the story was to see Italy from a family’s perspective. This is a family divided in two because of political beliefs, who act as a microcosm of the Italian situation at the time. From this story, I built the idea of the film, the two brothers and the love story.”

My Brother Is An Only Child conveys a profoundly human story about how families are involved with politics, but My Brother Is An Only Child is certainly not defined by politics. “I was involved with left-wing politics, so the fascists were enemies. While making My Brother Is An Only Child, I tried to identify with Accio. He is excluded in his family because his mother appears to love Manrico more. He is also excluded in politics because the revolution is going on and he is on the side of the fascists. I have tried to tell the story from Accio’s perspective, which I had a lot of mixed feelings about.”

The distinct time periods, from the 1960s to the 1970s, in My Brother Is An Only Child are successfully portrayed by the use of costumes and music. “The music helped me to represent the characters’ emotions. During the 1960s and 1970s there were a lot of very beautiful Italian songs, which recall the atmosphere of the era.”

The acting in My Brother Is An Only Child is natural and is particularly outstanding in the case of Accio. During his period of fascist sympathies, his body language is very aggressive and is particularly demonstrated in his contorted facial expressions. As Accio becomes disillusioned with the fascists his expressions begin to soften. “Before we started shooting, I asked one thing of the actors: to abandon the normal techniques and clichés of acting. I was looking for authenticity. I had a small bell, which I rang every time they used a cliché. On the first day the bell rang a lot. I spoke to the actors about the subtext of the film. I would often ask them to invert the meaning. For example, in the scenes of fighting between Manrico and Accio the subtext was love. The actors were free to move and did not have technical constrictions, because I asked the director of photography not to give me any limits on set. I often filmed without rehearsing, asking the camera to follow what was happening on the set, as if it were a real event, without deciding beforehand exactly what the shot would be. The cameraman shot the scenes like a documentary.”

The additional autonomy for Daniele of being both co-writer and director is evident throughout My Brother Is An Only Child. “Writing and directing allowed me the freedom to change things on set. For example, I changed lines of dialogue if they seemed too mechanical when spoken by the actors. It’s important for me to both write and direct, because I knew what I could change without affecting the overall meaning and structure of the film.“

My Brother Is An Only Child is a wonderful film that helps the audience explore the historical, political and social, but also, most importantly, the human story of Accio and Manrico’s relationship through the Italian political turmoil of 1960s and 1970s. It is a film of subtleties and complexities with the elements of sibling and familial rivalry being emotions that every person can identify with. “I think if you have a brother then you can understand the film, even if you don’t have any experience of politics and revolutions. In Italy today, young people who do not have experience of politics love My Brother Is An Only Child, because the human emotions in the film are universal.”

Daniele is currently working on a new film, “I am trying to tell a story about today, because in the 1960s we had films like La Dolce Vita, which reflected Italian life at the time. I want to make a film that resonates with contemporary Italy.”

My Brother Is An Only Child was released nationwide on 4 April 2008 by Revolver. My Brother Is An Only Child, the book was published by Revolver Books and was available from 4 April 2008.

Shona Fairweather