A brooding psychological study of the effects of a parricide on the killer’s younger brother in rural Spain, Santiago Garcia de Leaniz’s feature debut “The Night of the Brother” combines subtlety and intensity into a rich, understated and well-played whole. Though pic is sometimes a little airless and could have explored a wider emotional range, it has a generally well-built feel. Issuing from the same production company as the multiple award-winning “Take My Eyes” and featuring some top-line thesps, pic could garner offshore interest if it can avoid being buried in the upcoming fall avalanche of Spanish fare.
The fine opening frames, showing the murders by Alex (Pablo Rivero), have a concision and urgency that would have benefited the leisurely pic later on.
Seven months after the murder, Alex’s younger brother, the introverted, insecure Jaime (Jan Cornet), is living in the shadow of the crime with his grandfather (Juan Dalmau), a feisty former pilot from whom Jaime now takes his emotional cues.
Jaime is racked by doubts about what to do with the land that has come his way. Should he sell it for development, as locals Boluda (Jose Angel Egido) and Alex’s friend Lorenzo (Luis Tosar) are encouraging him to do, and so profit from Alex’s parricide? Or should he work the land himself? These questions form the pic’s moral heart and debutante Cornet carries the weight of the psychological interest well.
Jaime meets and falls for Maria (Maria Vazquez), who works in a butcher’s shop, and before too long they are heading to the lonely family house in the country, where the killings took place, to make love.
The strongest scenes are the supercharged prison meetings between the two brothers — a Spanish twist on the face-offs between Hannibal and Clarice in “The Silence of the Lambs” — that take their power from Jaime’s increasing suspicions that Alex intended to kill him, too.
The youthful central trio acquit themselves well, with Rivero as Alex (whose motives for the murder are never fully explored) looking credibly psychotic, and Cornet delivering a tight, but toned-down perf.
They are supported by some genuinely class acts, particularly Iciar Bollain and Tosar (who respectively helmed and starred in “Take My Eyes”) and the vet Dalmau, from “The Sea Inside.” Still, Bollain’s role as the grandfather’s nurse, the only morally non-confused character, feels slightly surplus.
Visuals are fine if uninspiring, while continual use of an owl sitting in a tree adds a self-consciously arty note that bumps against the straight-up realism that dominates. The jazz-inflected score sometimes feels over-insistent in a piece where the dialogue is easily strong enough to stand on its own.