The signature of screenwriting duo Rulli and Petraglia has become a sort of appelation controllee quality mark for recent Italian cinema products. They've even invented a sub-genre of films, which we might define 'retro-modern': period studies that repackage the tribes and the traumas of Italy's 1960s and 1970s for contemporary audiences. They did it in rambling, epic style with Best of Youth, and in bittersweet noir mode in the crime saga Romanzo Criminale.
With My Brother's An Only Child, they return to one of the strands of Best Of Youth - family conflict as a reflection of social fissures - put it under the microscope, and probe it obsessively.
The result is an engaging, energetic film that treats the ideological ingenuities of the 1960s with a mixture of irony and nostalgia, but which really comes in to its own in its close focus - literally so, in photographic terms - on the long-running love-hate relationship between two brothers, one on the far left, the other a neo-Fascist.
It also pulls off the difficult act of maintaining some arthouse kudos while winking at a wider market, at least in Italy, where the solid cast - from teen heartthrob Riccardo Scamarcio (soon to be seen in Abel Ferrara's Go Go Tales) to one of Italy's most respected actresses, Anna Bonaiuto (L'Amore Molesto, Il Caimano) - will help distributor Warner to broaden the film's appeal.
Overseas, the film's classy visuals, dramatic muscle and sense of humour will help to target it at the same sort of audiences that lapped up Best Of Youth, boosted by its selection at Cannes (Un Certain Regard). Though once again these will be more limited and cineaste than on home ground, where the cast, the language, and the historical and political references are all familiar.
Sabaudia was one of Mussolini's new towns, built on reclaimed swampland south of Rome in an ostentatious display of Fascist efficiency and social planning (the area also featured recently in Paolo Sorrentino's The Family Friend).
By 1961, though, when the roughly ten-year dramatic arc of My Brother... begins, it had become a dusty, depressed place, whose jerry-built housing was already falling apart. In an apartment in one such crumbling block, Accio (Germano) lives with his older brother Manrico (Scamarcio).
All elbows and acne, Accio is an awkward rebel who picks fights just for the sake of it and joins the neo-Fascist MSI party more to spite his parents and his brother Manrico (Scamarcio) than out of any real conviction. A good-looking womaniser, worshipped by his hassled, frustrated housewife mother (Finocchiaro), Manrico channels his charisma into showy left-wing posturing, haranguing his fellow workers and their families from the roof of the factory where he works.
The conflict between the two brothers is grounded in the dull reality of provincial life in a town that reaped few of the benefits of Italy's 'economic miracle' of the 1960s.
It's also veined by humour, and by dropping a girl between them - Manrico's long-suffering girlfriend Francesca (Fleri), who acts both as a wedge (she is hopelessly in love with Manrico, though the one she actually chats to is Accio) and a bridge between the two.
There is a dramatic lull around two-thirds of the way through, which even the snappy editing and moody camerawork can't paper over (this coincides pretty much with the moment when Accio turning on his former friends on the extreme right - thus removing the main external conflict between him and his brother).
But things soon pick up, and the neat, tragic final act reveals just how much we've been fooled by our sympathy with Accio into seeing things from his not entirely reliable point of view.
Claudio Collepiccolo's camera stays tight on characters, channelling the nervous energy of Elio Germano, whose headline role as a mixed-up, pugnacious activist who just wants to be loved is the standout act in a film bulging with tasty performances (others include Luca Zingaretti as a Fascist stallholder and Anna Bonaiuto as his sexy, salt-of-the-earth wife).
Costumes and production design are spot-on, evoking the sixties through haircuts, clothes and cars without making this an arid exercise in period authenticity.
Music too is well-gauged: the few 1960s numbers all have dramatic point, or counterpoint, and Franco Piersanti's original score plays the same game, providing satirical commentary with passages of tango or Tom-Waits-like barroom waltzes.
Warner Bros Pictures Italia
Matteo De Laurentiis
from the book Il fasciocomunista by Antonio Pennacchi