When we first meet Accio Benassi (Propizio), he’s a fiery young student at a Catholic preparatory school in small-town Italy. It’s October 1962, and across the Atlantic, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev are engaged in the 20th century’s greatest staring contest, over the appearance of Soviet missiles in Cuba. Passionate in his religious beliefs but too intellectually stubborn to be subservient, Accio is a cauldron of internal conflict. One minute he’s praying for the lost souls of Soviet communists; the next he’s masturbating in his dormitory bed to a photograph of a film star; the next he’s confessing that transgression to one of the school’s priests, demanding from him greater punishment – even assurances of damnation – for his mortal and sticky sin. Flash forward six years and Accio (now played by Germano) is still caught in his own peculiar maze of conflicting ideologies and passionate confusion: A fascist, then a communist, then a populist, then an ascetic, then a cuckolder, then a moralist, Accio wears his internal struggles like a badge of distinction, or at least proof of identity. He greets each change of loyalty with the religious fervor of the newly converted, which is to say he’s a mercurial character that any actor would find difficult getting a handle on, much less one who’s only 27 years old. But Germano – who, if this performance is any indication, deserves a long career – navigates all of Accio’s philosophical twists and turns masterfully, never shying away from his internal contradictions or inconsistencies, or his lightning-quick temper. Like the Robert De Niro of Taxi Driver
and Raging Bull
, Germano wears his intensity where everyone can see it bubbling, ready to explode at any moment but more terrifying for not yet having done so. He is the subtle and complex soul of Luchetti’s film, which, like its protagonist, isn’t sure what it wants to be. Is it a family drama about two brothers locked in lifelong struggle? Is it a love triangle set against the political and social turmoil of the 1960s? Is it a parable about the dangers of blind faith in ideology? I suppose, in the end, My Brother Is an Only Child
is a coming-of-age story about a young man who – like the era he was born into – has no idea how to come of age, except by violent fits and starts, in all directions, to varying ends, and ready to change course whenever the mood strikes.