There are times when you love a film unabashedly, and another film seems to follow in it's footsteps; sometimes, those echoes make you lash-out at the follower; sometimes, the reverberations make you like the follower a bit more than perhaps you should. Mio Fratello È Figlio Unico (My Brother is an Only Child), playing in this year's Un Certain Regard slate at Cannes, is an example of this phenomenon; even with it's merits as a light-but-sentimental story of family in 1960's Italy, it also reminded me of the soaring, sweeping, astonishing La Meglio Gioventù (The Best of Youth) -- and wound up completely winning me over.
Accio (Elio Germano) is the youngest of three kids -- growing up in coastal Italy, obsessed with Latin -- and so eager to set himself apart from his older, left-leaning brother Manrico (Riccardo Scamarcio) that he joins the local Fascist Brigade. The joke is that Accio -- young, uptight and harried - isn't even able to cut it as a fascist drone. ...
Directed by Daniele Luchetti, My Brother is an Only Child adapts Antonio Pennacch's novel Il Fasciocomunista; the adaptation is credited to Luchetti and Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli -- and, it should be noted, Petraglia and Rulli also gave us The Best of Youth. Like The Best of Youth, My Brother is an Only Child follows two brothers through years of Italian history, with their personal and political travails echoing down the years, but My Brother is an Only Child is both briefer and breezier. There are comedy bits here -- all involving Accio's frustrated flailing -- that you could easily imagine as some kind of bizarre, only-in-Europe sitcom: My Brother, the Fascist! And Accio has reason to be ticked off at the world: His parent's home is falling apart, despite promises of government-sponsored housing that have turned from a dream to a mirage; Manrico keeps on mussing his hair and forcing Accio to do his homework so he has more time to be with his girlfriend Francesca (Diane Fleri). Accio plays like a small-scale right-wing Woody Allen character -- a bright blowhard with a big mouth who gets no respect. But Accio's not all bad -- when the local Brigade wants to kick actions up a notch, he pulls the plug -- and as he matures, he comes to terms with his relationship with Manrico's charismatic would-be-revolutionary role, as well.
The tonal shift in My Brother is an Only child when things go from comedy to tragedy is a bit brusque, but leads Germano, Scarmarcio and Fleri have enough charm to get the movie through those rough spots. I may not know what it was like to live in the political and personal tumult of '60s Italy -- but I know what it's like to have your better-looking older brother muss your hair and then ask for help with his homework, and it's that human level that makes My Brother is an Only Child work as well as it does. Comparing it to The Best of Youth is like comparing a drawing of a toy car to a Formula One racer, but My Brother is an Only Child is still a handsomely-made, brightly charming pleasure in it's own right.