Film Journal 2023: Brother
Directed by Clement Virgo
Where to watch: now playing at Mcgilvary Cinemas; watch for a streaming or VOD release in the near future
This is the first I’ve seen from Virgo, who directed last year’s Dahlmer. Its the second film however that I’ve seen in the last two years set in Scarborouh (the other film bearing that same name and making my top list of 2021).
Brother is confined to a singular family, following this pair of siblings over the course of 20 years. The constant jumps in the timeline admittedly does get a bit hard to follow,.especially since the same actors occupy a span of 10 years without looking like they aged at all. What makes this a bit more challenging is that so much of the films emotional impact depends on inviting viewers to get lost in the rhythms of this intentional story structure.
What elevates this though is its commitment to each sequence. If the momentum of the story is somewhat muddled at times, it remains easy to get lost in the moments along the way. So when the climax does come and the trajectory is made clear, it definitely hits with a poetic fervor.
The performances are also quite phenomenal, playing two Jamaican-Canadian brothers separated by years but bonded by their circumstances. Left to care for their struggling mother, we watch these two boys, who exist as complete opposites, one big and extroverted and confident and the other small, shy and introverted, come of age in an uncertain world. Both of them in their own way struggle to figure out who they are amidst deeply felt responsibilities, desires, and struggles, which include growing up black in a neighborhood marked by gang violence and police presence. It’s a reminder that what is often assumed to be a distinctly American problem exists here too, if in a slightly differnt way and not quite as visible and definable.
Much of the Directors style reminded me of a more muted (in a good way) Waves. It’s very poetic, using lots of framing devices to draw out interconnected images and ideas. I would be curious to see if on a rewatch some of the visual pieces of the puzzle become even more clear and more alive in terms of the overall narrative arc.
Definitely one to keep on your radar if you are seeking out good canadian projects. Even with the meandering timeline and a too long run time it still finds a way to pack a powerful punch.