In Latina, which Mussolini had built south of Rome, two brothers grow up. “Black sheep” Accio joins a fascist organization after impulsively leaving the seminary, while his older brother, Manrico, takes a track sanctioned by their parents’ politics, becoming a union leader in the local factory where his father works and, eventually, part of a revolutionary organization suggesting the Brigate Rosse. Accio narrates. Accio’s experiences include a sexual relationship with the wife of the malcontent who enlists him in the fascist cause that he eventually abandons, eliciting this response from Manrico: “I knew you couldn’t be a fascist!” (The scene in question, which includes a public hug, reduces one to tears.) Meanwhile, Manrico has coupled with Francesca (whom Accio himself is attracted to), who has had their baby, and is on the lam from the law. Himself radicalized once his brother is murdered by the police, Accio takes into hand the solution to his community’s housing problem.
An intense, raucous and heart-slashing tragicomedy, Mio fratello è figlio unico—wonderful title!*—derives from Antonio Pennacchi’s 2003 novel Il Fasciocomunista. Writer-director Daniele Luchetti, working from a script to which Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli, the authors of Marco Tullio Giordana’s The Best of Youth (La meglio gioventù, 2003) also contributed, has his two lead characters reflect fifteen years of Italian history, in the 1960s and ’70s. But that history stretches back, given the omnipresent shadow of Mussolini (whose grave Accio reverently visits), and ahead, given the gleams of the present that the focused-on period contains. Luchetti has created a volatile, kinetic, emotional film—and one so in-the-moment that Italian cinema’s penchant for nostalgia is missing but, here, not missed.
The best performance comes from Angela Finocchiaro, who is devastating as the boys’ mother.
* Marcella Di Palo Jost has informed me that the film’s title is “a tribute to a song by Rino Gaetano, an Italian songwriter and singer during the ’70s, a very peculiar artist.”