In the last century, Europeans have felt the cost of war more directly than Americans. Perhaps that explains why their filmmakers consistently make superior political films than ours. Generally - and specifically post-9/11 - America's political films have been little more than rants, propaganda, and preaching to choirs. Directors seem disconnected and incapable of tapping into a common social consciousness. This is why Iraq War films tank at the box office (why still so many articles about this?... is it not obvious after seeing the films?).
For example, there are scenes in both Flags of Our Fathers, and the recent Stop-Loss, where a soldier (coincidentally, it's Ryan Phillipe in both...) visits the home of a fellow soldier that has fallen in combat. In both cases, the families come off as caricatures and/or loaded representations of the the director's personal ideals sans the complication and authenticity of true family dynamics. Contrast that with the post-WWII Italian family in My Brother Is An Only Child, and the difference is immediately distinct.
Accio and Manrico are brothers in a working-class family of five. The younger, Accio, is a fascist, while Manrico is a communist. In modern America, this idea of a far-righty and a far-lefty coexisting seems possible only in the realm of an Odd Couple-type sitcom. (Woody Allen had fun with intrafamilial right/left divide in Everybody Says I Love You, but ultimately he chickened out with it...) At first, observing Accio and Manrico in the same household is shocking. We've been conditioned to think that a person's political opinions defines the whole. But as Manrico's girlfriend says, "I like your brother for who he is, not because he's a communist.... and I like you too."
By making the divide between brothers so extreme - a proud fascist and a proud communist - My Brother Is An Only Child shakes American audiences awake about the silly, soft bigotry that exists between members of our two mainstream political parties. Like this week's DVD release of Jean-Luc Godard's La Chinoise, the ultimate conclusion of My Brother... is that ideological extremism, with its unbudgeable and unbridgeable idealism, is as fruitless as a sibling quarrel over drumsticks.
The title, My Brother Is An Only Child, is misleading. It implies a story about fraternal shame and embarrassment. But read the fine print of the tag line and the secret is revealed: "Sometimes The Things We Fight About Are What Bring Us Closest Together". It's optimism fashioned out of hopeless idealism.