I wasn't sure what to expect from this, but I doubted that there would be much happiness from uncomplicated love. OK, I like a good, realistic drama that is full of anguish, dashed hopes, and disillusionment, but there also has to be some growth, some meaning behind the tragedy - fortunately, that is at the center of this pessimistic, brutally cynical film.
The story is about 2 brothers and their separate lives. One of them (Bruno) appears normal, married with a child and working as a teacher while pursuing his writing. The other (Michael) appears the oddball, an intellectual who is haunted by memories and lives more or less like a monk in the temple of science. However, appearances deceive: the normal one is boiling with rage, lust, and a terrible isolation to the point that he screams at his mother on the death bed. The scientist has rich memories of an apparently unrequited childhood love, which he remembers with a nostalgia that yearns for a deeper commitment. In fact, both of them are profoundly alienated, so far unable to form healthy relationships and move on.
Their common issue is a narcissistic hippy mother, who gave them over to their respective grandmothers and didn't even tell one about the other until they were adolescents. As a boy, Bruno was taken to her commune, where she lived like a libertine with indiscriminate lovers and neglecting her duties as a mother. When Bruno meets Michael, it is extremely awkward, but they somehow form a bond that will be important for both of them. The mother then goes off with her latest lover, leaving them forever.
As adults, Michael is pursuing a vision that would revolutionize genetics, oddly to make sexless reproduction possible. He quits his business job to return to his mathematical research in another firm, but first he visits the house of his childhood love. Of course, an unlikely romance follows that, while tragic, is extremely beautiful and moving. The girl, it turns out, has reached her own impasse in life and opens herself to Michael with a wonderful ease. Meanwhile, Bruno's life disintegrates into a nervous breakdown; he loses everything - family and job - and desperately seeks a new relationship in a kind of hippy sex camp, where he meets a fellow libertine and they embark on an experimental relationship that involves going to sex clubs and plans to live together. This too ends in tragedy and an awful failure. Both of the women are extraordinary in their own ways and ultimately uplifting. I do not want to reveal spoilers, but the destinies of the brothers diverge horribly.
In the background, there is a serious philosophical look at modern society. The auteur despises capitalist materialism, which he seems to portray as responsible for the loss of values. His characters prefers things to meaning. That being said, this is by no means marxist. The auteur also despises hippies, who he sees as hedonists more interested in sex than love and as parasites on the modern economy. It is very bitter, even though the brothers seem to find places for themselves in the end. One highly functional, the other a disastrous psychotic.
Recommended with enthusiasm. This is a good one to own as it can be watched many times.