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2018 Berlin Film Festival Review: the indulgent misfire ‘My Brother’s Name is Robert and He is an Idiot’

Synopsis: Robert and Elena are two siblings living in a remote rural area. Elena is about to take her final exam when the two decide to make a dangerous bet.

Few films in the Berlinale official competition have managed to be this pretentious, tedious and dull. Clocking in at almost 3 hours, Philip Gröning’s latest feature is a lifeless, empty film full of pointless scenes, paper-thin characters and confused execution.

Robert and Elena are two siblings with an incestuous relationship. Their parents never appear in the picture and their social circumstances are never revealed. Over the course of three days, we follow the siblings who visit a field next to home. Elena is supposed to study philosophy for her final exam, but she is baffled that her brother may have slept with another girl. In an attempt to bring him to talk, she makes a bet with him: she will sleep with a random man before graduation. If she wins, he gets to ask her something. If she loses, he gets her car. Taking place in two settings: the field and the nearby petrol station, the film describes the events taking place during the final three days before Elena goes for her final exam.

This is a film that truly tests viewers’ patience to the extent that it becomes laughable. Full of long, pointless scenes with extremely pretentious, excruciatingly bad dialogue, we spend almost 70 minutes – over the course of the film’s 174 minutes – listening to philosophy arguments about the concept of time. How does that connect to the plot? Well, there isn’t one to begin with. As the film goes by, one wonders how the film managed to secure funding in the first place and how there were producers willing to spend on such a tedious 3-hour film that does no service to its characters or the audience.

As the film goes by with absolutely nothing going on screen except long takes with dialogues about philosophy and time, the third act suddenly turns into a bizarre revenge porn film that is not only out of place but not at all justified. After endless scenes of gore and borderline offensive incest sex scenes between the two siblings, we get a final long monologue about time that, in no way, justifies or even explains what the three hours before it were really about.

Neither an exercise in style or an audacious attempt to turn in something fresh, MY BROTHER simply loses its way after the first ten minutes. The editing does an unfortunate job of stretching the story so pointlessly that it kills any potential audience investment. And when the film turns into a torture-porn, the whole plot becomes truly laughable. That was definitely not Gröning’s intention – but there is nothing that can be said to defend a film that is odds with itself, its audience and its characters. Perhaps the only worthy aspect of the film is its lush cinematography that captures the beauty of the countryside, but it’s a muted beauty because it fits nowhere in a story that shows no signs of coherence.

Verdict: Tedious, empty and outright pretentious, MY BROTHER is an indulgent film that never takes off. An unfortunate missed opportunity that never offers any real insight, pleasure or entertainment. One of the biggest disappointments of the Berlinale and a major misfire.

Grade: D-

Mina Takla

Mina Takla is a foreign correspondent for AwardsWatch and the co-founder of The Syndicate, an online news agency that offers original content services to several film brands including Empire Magazine’s Middle East edition and the Dubai Film Festival. Takla has attended, covered and written from over 10 film festivals online including the Dubai International Film Festival, Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Cannes, Venice and Annecy Film Festivals. He has been following the Oscar race since 2000 with accurate, office-pool winning predictions year after year. He writes monthly in Empire Arabia, the Arabic version of the world’s top cinema magazine and conducts press junkets with Hollywood stars in the UK and the US. He holds a Master’s degree in Strategic Marketing from Australia’s Wollongong University and is currently based in Dubai, UAE.

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