Review: My Brothers and I

A coming-of-age story that feels cobbled together from countless other coming-of-age stories, Yohan Manca’s film nevertheless has an appealingly relentless momentum that keeps things fresh. Set in a second-rate resort seaside community in the south of France, the film’s titular siblings number four in all, with the “I” being the youngest, Nour (Mael Rouin Berrandou), who at 14 seems at first destined for a life of cynical disappointment. With their father dead and mother in a coma, the brothers are on their own and each one gets by as best he can, so to speak. The eldest, Abel (Dali Bensallah), has to be tough in keeping his unruly brothers in line, while Mo (Sofian Khammes), an occasional male prostitute who solicits both teams, is happy-go-lucky to a fault, drug dealer Hedi (Moncef Farfar) adding the requisite violence as the hot-headed misanthrope and screwup. Nour would just as soon quit school and become a pizza delivery person, but this summer he’s been dragooned into “community service” to paint his school and while doing so stumbles upon a singing class that uses Pavarotti doing Donizetti as a teaching resource, and since his mother loved Pavarotti he’s intrigued.

If you’re expecting another variation on Billy Elliot you’ll be either disappointed or pleasantly surprised. Though Nour joins the class and quickly proves to the opera-loving teacher, Sarah (Judith Chemla), that he has skills, real life never really lets him make good on the praise. The brothers live on the poor side of town where Hedi is constantly in the sights of the police and social services keep showing up to try and take their mother to a hospital, though the boys insist they can take care of her on their own since the mother’s wish was to die at home. Manca tries to balance the hardship with moments of light comedy that often fall flat (Mo’s attempted seduction of a middle aged Dutch tourist is probably not meant to be this revolting), but in Nour he’s hit on a protagonist that is not only endearing but realistic. His love of music may save him to a certain extent, but he doesn’t seem to entertain the possibility that he will be Pavarotti himself someday; which isn’t to say it couldn’t happen, but rather that such a development is outside Manca’s narrative purview. He keeps matters on the ground and local, and that makes all the difference. 

In French. Now playing in Tokyo at Cine Switch Ginza (03-3561-0707), Shinjuku Musashinokan (03-3354-5670).

My Brothers and I home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2021 – Single Man Productions – Ad Vitam – JM Films

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