Politics, passion and perfect performances...little wonder 'Mio Fratello è Figlio Unico' topped the Italian box-office.

Winner of five Donatello awards, 'My Brother is an Only Child' is an intelligent, great looking film about Italy's civil and social struggles in the 1960s and 1970s as personified by one very colourful, delinquent, working-class family.

Fans of the epic film 'The Best of Youth' will recognise the tone, style and flavour of the film as both are written (in Italian with English subtitles) by Sandro Petraglia and Stefano Rulli plus director Luchetti also collaborated on both projects.

Adapted from the novel by Antonio Pennacchi, the film focuses on the coming-of-age of two brothers; the studious and stubborn Accio (Germano, star of 'Napoleon and Me') and charming, extrovert Manrico (Scamarcio, star of 'Texas'). Raised in Latina, a town south of Rome created by Mussolini, the two were born politically aware with Accio rebelling against his older brother's communist loyalties by enlisting with local fascists. A hot-headed idealist, he wants to "restore the lost honour of Italy". In his quest he bangs his chest to the beat of every machismo's drum bar his own. He doesn't know what he wants and his passions flit from religion to fascism to communism and to his brother's girl (Fleri).

The siblings continue to play hard at play-fighting throughout their lives, trying and failing time and time again to defy their impenetrable brotherly bond. Girlfriends, political allegiance and domestic strife come and go but they remain if not by each other's side, never too far away.

This isn't the first time that social conflicts have been portrayed through family or fraternal bickerings on screen, 'Fists in the Pocket' being just one other example. Aside from a convincing lesson in Italian nostalgia, the film offers little new but what it does show is that when the going gets rough political allegiance takes second place to basic human needs. The characters are intriguing and vivid enough to drive this point home.

Italian Vogue pin-up Scamarcio, the Italian mix of Benicio Del Toro and Joaquin Phoenix, gives a very strong performance, ensuring pretty-boy typecasting is not something he needs to fear.

However the story is told through his younger more-studious Accio. His agile and engaging performance spanning the gamut of emotions ensures it's Germano's film; one minute vulnerable, the next volatile before flicking to conscientious and back again. The film moves beautifully through the years following cinematographer Claudio Collepiccolo's seamless transitions, most notably the switch from the younger (Propizio) to the older Accio. Franco Piersanti's soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to this story, reminding viewers of the heady sounds of the time.

Director Luchetti and co feared that the dated themes wouldn't appeal to young cinema-going audiences, however the combination of nostalgia and an insight into the politics, class struggles, fashions and frenzy of the time has resulted in a huge hit. It's unlikely that the film will get the same result on Irish soil; it's rare that a foreign film tops our box-office - more's the pity as this is a very rewarding experience and not just for arthouse fans.

Taragh Loughrey-Grant