2 min

Brotherly love

A far way from Philadelphia

Credit: Xtra files

The 2001 film Intimacy by French director Patrice Chéreau (La Reine Margot) was lumped in with the work of Catherine Breillat and Bruno Dumont; all their recent films were noted for rigorous, stripped-bare and unromantic presentations of explicit sexuality.

In his latest film, the highly ambitious Son Frère, Chéreau harnesses that same unflinching gaze to quietly detail the dying body of a 30-something man, Thomas (Bruno Todeschini). Suffering from an unnamed disease, Thomas’s primary symptom provides a succinct metaphor for the fraternal relationship at the centre of the film: Due to diminishing platelets his blood cannot clot so any wound is fatally irreparable.

The title refers to the relationship between Thomas and his brother Luc (Eric Caravaca), a gay man a few years his junior. At the beginning of the film the two men clearly do not have a close relationship, there is a deep awkwardness between them and they blame each other for the “abandonment” that had taken place. However, Thomas has tracked down Luc in order to ask that he take care of him during his illness, and Luc agrees out of a self-described sense of duty to his fellow man rather than familial loyalty.

Thomas desperately needs his brother’s compassion and Luc must leave his life behind to be on hospital duty full time. We are thrown with them into the chaotic, frightening world of anonymous patients, nurses and doctors characteristic of the medical bureaucracy of any large city (here Paris, though they later go to their parents’ home in Nantes). Rarely has the dehumanizing experience of being at the mercy of the medical establishment been rendered in such fetishistic detail: the poking and prodding of endless blood tests that provide no answers, the weight loss, drugs and despair (Thomas: “Is it too much to ask, to feel like more than a hunk of meat?”), the sympathetic but ultimately powerless doctor, fretful provincial parents and weathered coffee machine.

The scene of Thomas having his entire torso shaven in preparation for surgery by two gentle attendants, which unfolds virtually in real time and from every conceivable angle, has been rightly praised by many critics for its penetrating, near maddening observation of total resignation (he is posed at one point like Mantegna’s Dead Christ painting, though any religious or spiritual considerations of death are absent in this materialist male weepie).

Chéreau also features many close-ups of embraces, small gestures of hope and communicative touch amidst the institutional sterility. However, like Thomas’s blood-borne killer, the painful memories of a strained relationship between brothers are buried inside where the camera cannot reach. Chéreau ultimately asks how two men – in a brotherhood aborted by neglect – can express love and care for each other.

Son Frère, in French with English subtitles, opens Fri, Dec 10 at Camera (1028 Queen St W); call (416) 530 –0011.