Director Daniele Luchetti has won a slew of awards in his native Italy for his new film, the chalk-and-cheese story of two brothers who fall in love with the same woman amid the revolutionary atmosphere of the 1960s. It’s both tragic and comic – just like
THE SUBJECT matter of Daniele Luchetti’s new film, My Brother Is an Only Child, can be summed up in a few words – two brothers; chalk and cheese; one girl. But Luchetti’s innovative way of telling this oh-so-familiar story explains why the film comes to us garlanded with critical acclaim and five David di Donatello awards awards (Italy’s main film awards) – and his approach can be summed up in just one word – Italian. This film will appeal to anyone who loves, likes or is even mildly welldisposed towards Italy.
It radiates warmth and humour. It’s full of gorgeous-looking people. And it creates and sustains an enviable lightness of tone, even when the situation turns very dark.
The brothers in question are Manrico and Accio; the period is the decade 1965-75. Handsome and charismatic, laid-back and easygoing, Manrico sails through his teenage years surrounded by an adoring family and a fleet of girls, and when he gets involved in left-wing politics, he becomes a highly regarded campaigner for the cause. His younger brother, Accio, is more of a rebel in search of a cause: intense, strungout and prone to lash out first and ask questions afterwards – if at all. When he’s thrown out of his Catholic seminary school, he takes up with a fascist street trader and ends up saluting Il Duce and getting into street scuffles, and worse, at every opportunity.
Not the kind of guy you’d want to share a pizza with, really – which makes the lead performance of Elio Germano all the more remarkable. Throughout the film, you find yourself cheering for Accio; indeed, for most of it, you find yourself unable to take your eyes off him. His distinctive and startlingly unorthodox point of view was, as Luchetti explains, one of the core elements of the memoir by Antonio Pennachi on which the film is based.
“We tried to keep all the important things that we found there – of which the first is this point of view,” Luchetti says. “It’s strange to tell a story about the years of revolution from the point of view of a guy who didn’t do the revolution. And the second important idea is the family as a sort of model, or microcosm, of Italy.”
But the book was also highly political – and Luchetti didn’t want to make a political film. Nor did he want to make a film which would painstakingly recreate a 1960s ambience by piling strange hairdos on top of retro clothes and Mary Quant make-up. For the same reason, he avoided building a set, choosing instead to shoot in an abandoned city in Italy and aiming for a fresh, natural cinematic style.
“We did some rehearsal before we began shooting,” Luchetti says. “I had a small bell with me, which I rang every time the actors were trying to use some actor’s tricks. On the first day, the bell was always ringing; but when they understood what I mean by acting without all the tricks, I stopped rehearsing and started shooting. We tried to shoot first time each time, as if it were a documentary. And every time there had to be another take, I changed the lines.”
The central character also underwent a major change. “In the script, Accio was described as a stupid man – very muscular, very strong, and all that – so I researched a lot into boxing and that sort of thing,” says Luchetti. “But I wasn’t very happy with this kind of choice. When I met Elio Germano, I immediately understood that he was the right one to play Accio, because he’s clever – and to see a clever guy doing stupid things is more interesting than to see a stupid guy doing stupid things.
“Also, Elio’s acting is of very good quality. He works not just with his body, but also with his own emotions. So when you see his rage, or his love, or whatever it is, your impression is that it’s absolutely true.”
Did Luchetti worry that he’d be criticised within Italy for his almost cartoonish treatment of fascism, which he portrays as a creed so devoid of intellectual content that it could only possibly appeal to losers and the lonely? “Before the movie came out, I thought that it might happen,” he admits. “But once the movie was released, my intentions were very clear. In Italy, we are looking to make peace with this period of our history. We had 25 years of very hard life, of this fighting between left and right. And violent. Very violent. So a movie where you don’t see a judgment on this character is new. It’s a new way to see the period. This is not a movie which tries to demonstrate a political point of view. It’s a movie about human beings who do poli-
tics. And it’s clear that the characters are trying to find an identity through politics.
“So there wasn’t anybody complaining about it, even. Because” – he flashes a wicked grin – “in Italy now, there is no official Fascist party, anyhow.”
In a similarly lighthearted spirit, the film presents a spectrum of Italian womanhood at a time of great cultural change. “This is how it was in the Sixties,” Luchetti says. “You have the mother, the centre of life and apparently the weak link in the family but actually its strongest member – and the only person Accio is afraid of. Then you have the sister, one of those girls who tried to get out from very, very enclosed families; she’s studying music, she moves to Rome, she has more freedom in her sex life.”
Francesca, the girl with whom both brothers fall in love, is a sort of model for the new Italian woman: confident, calm, cosmopolitan.
And the film’s title? Was it really chosen at random from his iTunes library? Luchetti spreads his hands in the classic “whaddya gonna do” gesture. “I know,” he says. “It’s funny. But it’s true. We had a production meeting and we didn’t have any title because the title of the book, Il Fasciocomunista (The Fascist Communist) is too hard. The producer told me we wouldn’t get out from his office until we found a title. I had with me my iPod, so I pressed ‘shuffle’ and the first song to come up was My Brother Is an Only Child.”
Which just happens to be an Italian pop song from the 1970s. Luchetti’s iPod must be well stocked with similar material, because the film’s soundtrack contains a beguiling selection of evocative pop tunes which is used – sparingly, but tellingly – alongside an original orchestral score.
“I asked the composer to do some classical, sad themes for the sad scenes, and some very funny themes for the funny scenes,” says Luchetti. “But when I tried to put this music with the scenes, I decided to – whoosh – mix everything. So now the sad music is with the funniest scenes and the funny music is with the sad ones. Because I think the film is also full of a mixing of styles. Comedy and tragedy are mixed together. So the music must make the same work.”
In the end, though, which is it – a tragedy or a comedy? Luchetti doesn’t miss a beat. “Both,” he says. “Like life.” My Brother Is an Only Child opens at the IFI in Dublin today and is reviewed on page 11
Above: Elio Germano, star of ‘My Brother Is an Only Child’. Below: Germano with director Daniele Luchetti