Although the Italian drama My Brother Is an Only Child deals with a time of political upheaval and cultural change, its background of activism and revolution always comes second to its depiction of interpersonal drama. If you’re not familiar with Italian politics in the 1960s and ’70s, you’ll only get the vaguest sense of them by seeing this movie, but you will come to know hotheaded and passionate sometime activist Accio (Germano) pretty well.
Accio comes of age during the ’60s, when student protests and political movements are sweeping Europe. His brother Manrico (Scamarcio) joins the growing Communist party, leading protests at the factory in their small town and engaging in an on-again, off-again relationship with fellow activist Francesca (Fleri). Accio goes the opposite route, aligning himself with Fascists and deriding the utopian idealism of the Communists.
As he gets older, Accio’s convictions waver, becoming subordinate to his love life and his complicated relationship with his family. The movie, too, meanders in an effort to find its focus, and while Accio’s growing pains are often entertaining, they lack purpose or urgency. Director Luchetti shoots in a loose, casual style that recalls movies of the period he’s depicting, and sometimes effectively captures the rhythms of everyday life. Accio’s affair with the wife of his Fascist mentor and his mostly unrequited love for Francesca are both depicted with delicacy and care.
But the relationship between the brothers never seems as vital as the title implies it will be, and Manrico remains a bit of an enigma throughout the film. The film’s early affability eventually wears out, and a sharp turn into deadly seriousness feels out of place. Luchetti deals so lightly with political matters that it’s hard to take them seriously when they finally start to have consequences. By the end, even Accio himself is lost to us, having changed so much since his early days that he’s hardly even recognizable.