Roman director Daniele Luchetti's 2007 film Mio Fratello è Figlio Unico (My Brother Is An Only Child) is a brilliantly evocative tale of a pair of brothers' search for identity (political, familial and sexual) in Italy's Lazio region in the early 1960s. Showcasing an exhilarating central performance (amongst a consistently strong cast) by leading Italian (and fellow Roman) actor Elio Germano as Accio Benassi, Luchetti's film combines an authentic look and feel (principally as a result of the excellent work of cinematographer Claudio Collepiccolo) with a highly evocative soundtrack (featuring a Morricone-esque score by Franco Piersanti, plus Italian songs from the era) to create a compelling and poignant film.
Accio's uncertainties around his future life trajectory are initially manifested during his period at a Catholic seminary, during which he questions his own emergent sexuality and politics. His latent rebelliousness is further fostered by his feelings of parental rejection, and the leftist political path chosen by brother Manrico and sister Violetta (a budding orchestral cellist) - respectively played in outstanding performances by Riccardo Scamarcio and Alba Rohrwacher. His association with fascist market trader Mario Nastri (played by TV's Inspector Montalbano, Luca Zingaretti) leads him to join the extremist party, thereby pitching him directly against his brother. These early sections of the film are, for me, particularly strong - indeed, Luchetti cast a younger, but still outstanding actor (Vittorio Emanuele Propizio) in Accio's early scenes and the transition between the two actors is (remarkably) totally seamless. Germano as the older Accio is superb throughout, but, particularly during the scenes with Francesca, Manrico's girlfriend and fellow Communist party worker, as Accio struggles to come to terms with the conflict between his adopted politics and romantic desires.
As Accio becomes increasingly militant in his political activities, Luchetti includes a number of standout scenes of friction between the brothers, before Accio begins to realise that his fraternal loyalty actually means more to him than his chosen political path. A particularly powerful scene features fascist party members (now, sans Accio) storming a Communist party-organised concert featuring Beethoven's 9th Symphony (amusingly with Schiller's Ode To Joy reworded to list the names of notable left-wing figures - Mao, Marx, Lenin, etc).
For me, Luchetti manages to steer the film just about clear of any feelings of over-sentimentality and in the process delivers a powerful depiction of Italian politics in a film which sits alongside the likes of Bertolucci's films The Conformist (the outstanding film on this subject) and Novecento, and, more recently, Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo. The ending of Luchetti's film, where the Benassi family is able to enjoy some relief from their tragic situation by finally achieving their goal of moving into a new home, is particularly poignant.
A must-see film, therefore, in which Elio Germano demonstrates that (along with France's Romain Duris) he is one of the most outstanding European actors of the last 10 or so years.