Prepare yourself for a typical Noel Clarke style urban drama set in East London and filled with “brevs”. Prepare yourself, so you can experience exactly what I did while watching My Brother the Devil- an independent drama set in Hackney that due to lack of support from big production companies, quietly revolutionises the subgenre in question.
Covering different social topics in one film is always a challenge and My Brother the Devil set the bar really high. However, unlike Anuvahood, which also decided to mirror all aspects of youth’s life and in my opinion, failed to do anything more but coping its American predecessor, “Kids”, My Brother the Devil takes a completely different approach in portrayal of the explored issues. Instead of presenting us with ten basic characters, it focuses on the story of two brothers, their relationship and their struggle to survive the urban environment.
Mo is a young boy who feels like he is growing up in his brother’s shadow. Although his educational decisions are supported by Rashid and the rest of the family, Mo doesn’t want to go to university and have a career. Mo wants to do what Rashid does- hang out with the “brevs”, smoke weed and steal TVs. The lifestyle of his older brother is cool and cool is what separates teenagers from the real deal. Mo wants to be the real deal.
Rashid is extremely popular within his environment. He is reliable, organised and very conscious of the situation he is in. The coolness so praised by Mo is a cage for Rashid. He is trapped in the unprogressing environment, stuck with gang fights and small robberies. In the eyes of the urban youth Rashid has everything- respect, money and hot chicks, but he himself sees the bigger picture, the future, which although blurry, might still be possible to achieve. At least for Mo.
My Brother the Devil isn’t patronising. I believe it is crucial characteristic which makes it a truly different film from any other urban drama targeted at young people. It doesn’t treat its characters nor its audience as stupid- both of the brothers are equally right, have the valid reasons behind the ways they behave and are interesting to follow. Although at the beginning of the film we might feel like idolised Rashid is the better one and Mo, in all his naivety and frustration, is an unexperienced character that exists in the film only for the pure purpose of ‘learning his lessons’; the certain moment of the movie changes the balance between the brothers dramatically. We realise that the youthful frustration is the expression of much deeper fears and worries that Mo has and the mental journey he goes through in order to accept the situation he is put in, is truly amazingly told.
My Brother the Devil is a real, intimate portrayal of human relationships. It has flaws and it does bring some urban drama cliches, however, being the debut of Sally El Hosaini, the film impresses with its mature treatment of difficult topics, such as immigration, homosexuality and coming-out-of-age. It is an important movie that unfortunately might be easily underrated. Let’s hope London Film Festival will bring it its deserved attention. It is definitely a cherry on this little sloppy urban cake.