Edinburgh 2016: Brothers review


A labour of love to rival that of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, Brothers is a charming study of growing up, a preservation of memory and lessons learned from a mother to her own sons. Norwegian documentary filmmaker Aslaug Holm is lucky to have two such thoroughly likeable and comfortable subjects. Filmed from their infancy into adolescence, they are completely at ease being on camera – save from a few moments of irritation – and mature in front of our eyes. In a non-linear mosaic of first steps, first days at big school, first girlfriends, times tables, football training and band sessions boys turn into young men.

During contemplative, frequently existential questioning of her sons, the motivations and objectives for the film, Holm opens out an intimate familial project to the nature of heritage, lineage, and how knowing where you are from is vital to know where you are going. The petty arguments, make-ups, and experiences of the 2.4 kids here will be very familiar to all. As such Brothers is as much an exercise in self-discovery and the evolution of motherhood for Holm. Stunning footage shown on grainy, over-exposed stock showing her grandfather hard at work hauling huge quantities of fish underline how salty ocean water runs in her blood, and that of her sons.

Among flips forward and backwards in time the film opens, and will end, with an elder brother challenging his younger to swing on a rope into dark and uncertain water: “Jump, Lukas!” says taller, stronger big bro Markus. Though Holm may demonstrate an enormous affection for her sons, there is an impressive distance maintained between her position behind the camera and subjects. Largely silent, she poses questions intermittently but generally allows sound and image to speak for themselves. And the boys do come out with remarkably clear-sighted philosophical musings. With queries flowing each way, their mother answers with a similar honesty. Informed as she is with a greater life experience, it is interesting to note how mum often struggles to answer with the same innocent clarity as her young’uns. However, the apple clearly has not fallen too far from the tree.

With a focus on Markus and Lukas’ exploits, fights, brotherly love, thoughts and worries, their father is relegated to rather a peripheral role and it is a little odd that no element of the filmmaker’s marriage is explored given the importance a unified parental unit plays in the raising of children. Uncertainty in knowing how to end the project and more importantly how to relinquish her maternal grip on her offspring, means that some of the inexorable ebbing of time could be cut from the finished article but Brothers is nonetheless a touching, personal portrait.

The 70th Edinburgh International Film Festival takes place from 15-26 June. For info visit edfilmfest.org.uk.

Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens

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