My Brother Simple
German Film Week 2017
World-premiered at Shanghai International Film Festival, June 2017
When his mentally handicapped brother is to be sent to a home, Ben and Simple run away, trying to find their long-lost father. Ever since Ben can think, he and his brother they call „Simple“ have been thick as thieves. Simple is 22 years old, but mentally he's a three-year-old. Even if Simple can be a nuisance, Ben can't imagine life without him. When their mother dies unexpectedly, Simple is supposed to be sent to a care home. But Ben won't stand for it. They run away together, and after a crazy odyssey and a night spent outside under the stars, Ben realizes there's only one way out: They have to find their Dad, whom they haven’t seen for 15 years.
Source: German Films Service & Marketing GmbH
At the heart of My Brother Simple are two endearing characters, Ben (Frederick Lau) and Barnabas (David Kross), who, after the sudden death of their mother, have no one to turn to but themselves. All his life Ben has looked after his brother, whom he affectionately calls Simpel, a twentysomething with a developmental disability, a grownup man with the faculties of a three-year-old boy. Ben feeds him, washes him, plays with him: He is with him every step of the way. Now he is told that Simpel needs to be put into a home where he can be taken care of much better, a decision made at the behest of their father, who has abandoned them. But Ben cannot just let his beloved brother go – and Simpel cannot part with him either – they are one another’s best friend, best brother, and best companion. And so they decide to run away and travel all the way to Hamburg to find their father and persuade him to change his mind. Their escape is a mix of adventure and tragedy, a journey filled with bittersweet encounters that only make them stronger and closer to each other.
Ben (Frederick Lau) has been taking care of his brother Barnabas (David Kross) all his life. Barnabas, nicknamed „Simpel,“ has a developmental disorder that keeps him at around age three mentally. When their mother dies, the authorities elect to send Simpel off to a facility where he can be taken care of 24/7. Ben balks at this, and runs away with Simpel in tow, aiming to get to Hamburg to find their father.
A good chunk of this film has the characters on the road, meeting a succession of weird characters on their way to Hamburg. It ends up taking a pretty schematic structure: all the drama stems from Ben’s inability to tend to his brother all the time. He leaves him to his own devices for a little while, and Simpel gets into some trouble. This is, of course, the very reason the authorities want to take Barnabas away, and the entire film seems to be built around the drama of Ben coming to terms with his limitations in caring for his brother.
It results in a rather strange film where the main character, while clearly someone who loves his brother, is mostly shown failing to properly care for him. There are so many points where it feels like Ben should just know better, and there’s absolutely no reason he couldn’t have found better ways to deal with the situation. Performances are strong, and the production itself is pretty impressive. But the narrative never quite becomes something beyond its quirky characters.