Two siblings get reacquainted as they grapple with the elder's grave disease in the subdued drama "His Brother." A determinedly cool film of facial landscapes and interior emotions from vet French director Patrice Chereau ("Queen Margot," "Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train"), pic is affecting on its own terms.

Two siblings get reacquainted as they grapple with the elder’s grave disease in the subdued drama “His Brother.” A determinedly cool film of facial landscapes and interior emotions from vet French director Patrice Chereau (“Queen Margot,” “Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train”), pic is affecting on its own terms. Without the hook of explicit sex found in Chereau’s previous feature, “Intimacy” (which won the 2001 Berlin fest’s main competish award), new work reps a more substantial marketing challenge, but should ride fest exposure to arthouse bows where his rep is known.

Thirty-year-old Luc (Eric Caravaca) has drifted away from his family, though they all live in or near Paris. An abrupt telephone call from his older brother Thomas (Bruno Todeschini) is followed by a visit, and some bad news: Thomas is gravely ill with a mysterious disorder.

Reluctant at first, Luc accompanies Thomas to the hospital and helps bring things from his flat. The siblings’ overly optimistic mother (Antoinette Moya) and blustery father (Fred Ulysse) take a train in to visit on occasion. Luc also gets to know Thomas’ increasingly troubled g.f. Claire (Nathalie Boutefeu) — very nearly sleeping with her — while his relationship with live-in boyfriend Vincent (Sylvain Jacques) comes to an offscreen end.

When medicines don’t work, surgery is performed, yet the tired-looking head doctor (Catherine Ferran), while optimistic that “one can live without platelets,” doesn’t seem to believe it herself. Thomas, who has become increasingly frustrated with the many procedures, decides to leave the hospital and moves to a seaside house with Luc. Eventually, Thomas quietly walks into the ocean and drowns, leaving no apparent note for his brother, who may or may not know his brother’s fate.

Pic is bookended by scenes at the beachside house, the story structure skipping among February, July and August of presumably the same year, sometimes without warning. Though an interesting idea, gambit proves occasionally confusing, as Thomas is seen at the beach with a huge abdominal surgery scar well before the actual operation.

Working from an existing novel, Chereau seems as intent on the rituals of modern medicine as he does on the emotional journey the brothers take to rapprochement. Emblematic is one of pic’s standout scenes, during which Thomas lies impassively as a pair of nurses efficiently shave him.

Todeschini has the most physically demanding role, with a gaunt face and ravaged body that utterly convinces of the brutality of the ailment. Yet both he and Caravaca do a great deal with very little histrionics to make auds care for two brothers who are clearly re-learning to appreciate their family ties, but who only rarely confront each other about their respective emotional journeys –giving Thomas’ eventual proclamation of love to his brother all the more resonance. Rest of cast is uniformly fine in support, with a heartbreaking scene from Robinson Stevenin as a 19-year-old boy facing major surgery who tells Thomas of his fears.

Tech credits are crisp and unshowy, led by Eric Gautier’s intimate yet discreet photography. Marianne Faithful’s tune “Sleep” (“ashes to ashes, dust to dust”) plays under a pivotal scene.

His Brother

France

Production

An Azor Films production, in co-production with arte France, Love Streams. (International sales: Flach Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Directed by Patrice Chereau. Screenplay, Chereau, Anne-Louise Trividic, from the novel by Philippe Besson.

Crew

Camera (color), Eric Gautier; editor, Francois Gedigier; costume designer, Caroline de Vivaise; sound (Dolby Digital), Guillaume Sciama; assistant directors, Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 11, 2003. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Thomas - Bruno Todeschini Luc - Eric Caravaca Claire - Nathalie Boutefeu Head Doctor - Catherine Ferran Vincent - Sylvain Jacques Mother - Antoinette Moya Manuel - Robinson Stevenin Father - Fred Ulysse
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