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BERLIN 2018 Competition

Review: My Brother's Name Is Robert and He Is an Idiot

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- BERLIN 2018: As long, irritating and meaningless as its title, the film screened by Philip Gröning in competition lost its audience before even being able to finish traumatising them with its ending

Review: My Brother's Name Is Robert and He Is an Idiot
Josef Mattes and Julia Zange in My Brother's Name Is Robert and He Is an Idiot

Hundreds of audience members had left the Berlinale Palast cinema by the end of the film. The question posed by My Brother's Name is Robert and He is an Idiot [+see also:
trailer
interview: Philip Gröning
film profile
]
by Philip Gröning (Into Great Silence [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Philip Groening
film profile
]
), in competition at the Berlinale, is as follows: how can a director, who undoubtedly knows how to hold a camera, mess up so badly, to the point that he fails his primary mission: maintaining his audience’s attention for the duration of a film?

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Gröning wins a real grand slam here. He manages to conjure up a certain ennui and to annoy his audience profusely with an unhealthy and hollow universe which we care very little about – that of two squabbling twins (Julia Zange and Josef Mattes) who spend the last two days of their summer holiday together in a corn field near a deserted petrol station. Along the way, disjointed sections about truth, being, nothingness and time are ceremoniously listed (borrowed from Plato, Heidegger and Saint-Augustin, great philosophers whose musings are picked and chosen to serve a cliché under the pretext of revision for a philosophy exam), in order to dish out remarks about subjectivity with alarming awkwardness under the guise of continual reassessment, which we had ascertained from the very beginning anyway. 

Isolated quotes are not the only unoriginal thing in this very lengthy film, which evokes, entirely unoriginally, two teenagers coming of age (after a childhood summed up by felt-tip pen on a doorframe – a classic), their imminent separation and an empty summer holiday (with insects filmed close-up on an arm or between the fingers of a small hand – also a cliché of the genre). 

After the first hour, the plot, or lack thereof, is completed by sporadic, incomplete sexual acts, which we follow by gazing into the empty stare of the small, blonde, and very young-looking child who plays the twin. When she sees that her bickering isn’t enough to hold her brother back, she agrees to a bet to sleep with someone within 48 hours, an element of narrative suspense so gratuitous that it hardly stops the cinema from emptying with the regularity of sand in an hourglass. Those who remain are rewarded in the last half hour by a mediocre and incestuous missionary sex scene (which was predictable from the very beginning, by the way, given the "you come"/"I come," we hear in passing, which is the twins’ way of acknowledging each other), accompanied by a charming reverse rape scene (of an adult man by a teenager) and a quick murder on a toilet – think Badlands but in the WC. 

The epilogue, which is rather ridiculous, shows the girl sitting her philosophy exam, basically massacring Bergson and humming an indistinct melody in a meek little voice, but the cherry on top is that after this, as the screen goes black and any stragglers left in the audience proceed to leave the room, a few last-minute fragments are thrown onto the screen again, that the audience has to actually turn around to watch. A director seldom ensures so completely that viewers literally turn their backs on his or her film. Gröning certainly completes a faultless run here, despite capturing certain shots quite well. We can’t encourage him enough to hire a screenwriter for his next film. 

My Brother's Name is Robert and He is an Idiot was produced by Philip Gröning Filmproduktion and Bavaria in Germany, with L Films in France, in co-production with Ventura Movie (Swiss). International sales of the film are being handled by The Match Factory.

(Translated from French)

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