Review: ‘My Brother’s Summer’

Unassuming but oddly effective Italian curio offers a deadpan, straight-ahead look at childhood imagination, as an only son deals with the prospect of siblinghood. Tyro helmer Pietro Reggiani has devised a disarmingly simple-seeming tale where fantasy receives the same flat, dispassionate treatment as reality.

This review was updated on May 11, 2005

Unassuming but oddly effective Italian curio offers a deadpan, straight-ahead look at childhood imagination, as an only son deals with the prospect of siblinghood. Tyro helmer Pietro Reggiani has devised a disarmingly simple-seeming tale where fantasy receives the same flat, dispassionate treatment as reality. Subtle comedy requires careful handling, but this offbeat excursion into a 9-year-old’s inner world could prove surprisingly rewarding to arthouse auds.

Sergio (Davide Veronese) is a well-adjusted, if somewhat solitary child, equally at ease with his peers or off in his own reveries. At the family’s summer house outside of Verona, his middle-class parents (Maria Paiato, Pietro Bontempo), going through a rough patch in their marriage, discover they’re expecting another child. After some debate, they decide to go through with the pregnancy, announcing the joyous news to Sergio, who is anything but thrilled about the prospect of sharing.

Nifty scenes featuring Sergio’s imaginary sister (Beatrice Panizzolo) or brother (Tommaso Ferro) show them winning his parents’ affection and stealing the thunder in his daydreams; they suit up and land on the moon ahead of him, or they demand he play house instead of playing William Tell. Fed up with his fantasized brother, Sergio casts him as a loin-clothed Christian martyr and roasts him on the family grill.

When his mother miscarries, Sergio is consumed with guilt. His imaginary brother demands Sergio die, too, though the tone, through much hilarious yet frightening negotiation, manages to remain comic. The two become inseparable, as Sergio good-naturedly looks out for his kid bro, offering him the plum parts in his whimsical imaginings while his parents start to despair of Sergio’s sanity.

Reggiano employs no quirky camera effects to separate reality from fantasy — Sergio’s daydreams are as pedestrian-looking and low-budget as the rest of the film; costumed in a small space suit or decked out in surgical greens, the little kid looks simultaneously heroic and ridiculous. But the camera’s unblinking acceptance of Sergio’s subjective vision acts as a validation, making his conjured-up brother as normal a companion as any of his actual friends.

Tech credits are suitably modest. Reggiano waited five years to shoot the film’s brilliant coda, featuring exactly the same, now-older actors.

My Brother's Summer

Italy

Production

A Nuvola Film production. Produced by Antonio Ciano. Directed, written by Pietro Reggiani.

Crew

Camera (color), Luca Coassin, Werther Germondari; editors, Valentina Girodo, Alessandro Corradi; art director, Luisa Taravella, in cooperation with Piccardo di Montereale; costume designer, Valentina Taviani. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (competing), April 25, 2005. Running time: 82 MIN.

With

Davide Veronese, Tommaso Ferro, Maria Paiato, Pietro Bontempo, Beatrice Panizzolo.
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