DIRECTOR: Patrice Chéreau | WRITERS: Patrice Chéreau, Anna-Louise Trividic | CAST: Bruno Todeschini, Eric Caravaca, Nathalie Boutefeu | France
I almost didn’t watch Patrice Chéreau’s Son frère because the copy I had access to was dubbed into Italian and had horrendous subtitles; relying on my fairly good lip reading skills, my creaky high school French, and my opera libretto Italian, I’ve got a strong suspicion that what passes for the subtitling of the Italian dubbing was actually made from listening to and translating the gist of what’s on the original French audio track. So…not ideal. But I persevered and watched the movie anyway. Why? Because it gripped me from the very beginning and wouldn’t let me go. Son frère concerns two long-estranged brothers, the 30-year-old Luc (Eric Caravaca), and his older brother Thomas (Bruno Todeschini) who suffers from a life-threatening blood disorder and has sought to mend their relationship. Both characters are exceptionally well drawn, with perhaps Luc’s being the more interesting if only because you sense some underlying anger or resentment on his part that he won’t or can’t express. (It was Luc who broke off contact originally. Thomas accepts the fact that Luc is gay — was that the cause of the estrangement? — and has a lover, but Luc denies that his lover, who we know to be his lover, is anything more than a friend. The movie doesn’t explain, but it doesn’t have to; life and relationships are sometimes murky like that.) The actors in both parts are more than equal to the task; Bruno Todeschini, in fact, gives a truly outstanding performance in what on paper might have been a mawkish role.
But it’s Patrice Chéreau’s directing that really stands out. Chéreau focuses on the physicality of his actors: you’re aware of their bodies, especially Thomas’s, to an extraordinary degree. There’s an extended (6+ minutes) scene during which two nurses prep Thomas for surgery the next day by shaving his (extremely hairy) body from his neck to the tops of his thighs as he lies weak and motionless on his hospital bed. The dialogue is minimal and mostly functional comments from the nurses, and most of the scene is shot in medium closeup with a few reaction shots of Luc, who’s standing near the door watching. The scene feels reverential in the way that the traditional washing of the dead is reverential; I found it unutterably sad. I want to see the movie again, in French this time and with better subtitles. I don’t know that I’d rate it any higher than I do, but I want to hear what these actors, especially Bruno Todeschini, do with their parts in their own voices. This is at least the third film I’ve seen recently to use Marianne Faithful’s “Sleep” on the soundtrack. I can’t remember the others (Shame? Le temps qui reste?), but here it’s used to devastating effect.