It's bad enough when you hate your brother for being an annoying little jerk. The sibling relationship gets a lot more complicated when you're growing up in politically tumultuous 1960s Italy, he's a neo-Fascist and you're a Communist. Now those are some dinner table arguments.

"My Brother Is an Only Child" is a spirited comic coming-of-age melodrama in which a budding political identity is as vital to personal growth as a developing mind, body, or the beginning of sexual desire.

The film covers 15 years of Italian history, following the teenage Accio (Vittorio Emanuele Propizio) into early adulthood. In adolescence, he's a wise-guy troublemaker who is placed in the seminary as much to relieve the overcrowding in his working-class parents' apartment as to pursue a priestly vocation.

His older brother Manrico (handsome Riccardo Scamarcio), a left-wing agitator, undermines teenaged Accio's slippery hold on celibacy by passing him a revealing photo of a sexy movie starlet. Soon enough, Accio is expelled, back in the family apartment and squabbling with his older brother, sister and parents.

He finds a macho father figure in the local tablecloth salesman, a bruiser who is nostalgic for Mussolini. Accio adopts Fascist black shirts and provokes the local Communists as much to irritate Manrico as from any sense of political engagement. In a smashingly staged confrontation, the rival factions clash during an impromptu performance of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," reworded as a worker's anthem.

When he grows up (Elio Germano plays adult Accio with hair-trigger impulsiveness) he veers left, smitten by Manrico's freethinking girlfriend (gorgeous Diane Fleri). Manrico becomes more radical, joining a revolutionary group that takes up arms against the state.

You don't need a degree in political science to love this film. The brothers are dabblers in politics. The divide between left and right is a smaller fault line between them than the love-hate between big brother and little brother. They shout at each other, they hug each other, they punch each other. If they were American, one might be a Yankees fan, the other a Red Sox supporter. The film entertainingly demonstrates that the bonds of blood are stronger than those of ideology.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186