Brother be­yond

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

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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

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