Shot over five years in a docufictional style that fuses reality and imagination, Brotherhood is an assured second feature from the Italian director, Francesco Montagner. His main subjects are three sibling sheep farmers, Jabir, Usama, and Useir (played by actual brothers), who live and work together in rural Bosnia. The location might indicate a sort of travel-dilettantism on the part of the filmmaker, but his use of an embedded approach and an organic perspective is generally thoughtful rather than cursory.
The plot is set in motion by the initial presence and eventual absence of the boys’ father, Ibrahim, once a Mujahideen who fought the Serbs in the 1990s and soon to be imprisoned for his somewhat arcane association with Islamic terror plots. He is a strict and devout paternal figure, whose influence varies among his children. The deeply religious middle child, Usama, is ridiculed for his piety by the youngest, Useir, whose countenance transforms most starkly as he enters his teenage years. The eldest, Jabir, tries to manage the resentments and indiscretions of both while pursuing an adult life of his own.
DP Prokop Souček’s attraction to twilight image-making bathes the brothers in alternating conditions and landscapes: the bucolic glow regularly gives way to bleak precipitation. These visual contrasts evoke both the wistful suggestion of youthful discovery and the forlorn melancholy of farmhand labour. City life – the hubbub of schools, clubs and friendships – is juxtaposed against the austere, solitary routine of herding, shearing and butchering the flock.
Themes of tradition, responsibility, honour and fraternity underpin much of the drama, but these through-lines are not offered insistently; instead they are allowed to churn and fester during the boys’ interactions. The way the brothers look – similar but not identical, with gradual stages of auburn illuminating their hair – supplies an eerie discombobulation. Useir’s shaved head reappears as he ages, hinting at, but not advertising, the compression of time that echoes the suppression of their lives. His indifference to prayer sets up an abrupt close, which posits the simplicity of escape above the complicated duty of filial obligation.
Brotherhood does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Locarno Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
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