Rocco and His Brothers (1960)

Review #1,309

Director:  Luchino Visconti
Cast:  Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Renato Salvatori, Annie Girardot, Katina Paxinou, Spiros Focas, Max Cartier
Plot:  Having recently been uprooted to Milan, Rocco and his four brothers each look for a new way in life when a prostitute comes between Rocco and his brother Simone.

Genre:  Crime / Drama 
Awards:  Won Special Jury Prize & FIPRESCI Prize (Venice).
Runtime:  180min
Rating:  PG13 for some violence.
International Sales:  Intramovies / Tamasa Distribution

Whenever the history of Italian cinema is mentioned, filmmaking stalwarts such as Fellini and Antonioni are often names that immediately come to mind.  There's of course Rossellini and De Sica, and later on, Pasolini and Bertolucci, but curiously, the great Luchino Visconti doesn't quite figure nearly as prominently in any such conversation. 

I personally adore Visconti—one has to see his masterpiece The Leopard (1963), arguably the greatest period costume drama after Kubrick's Barry Lyndon (1975), to be in awe of his talent.  Rocco and His Brothers is another superb film, one of Visconti's very finest, and nearly as lengthy as The Leopard

The three-hour epic stars the dashingly handsome Alain Delon as Rocco, who with his four brothers Vincenzo, Simone, Ciro and Luca, and their old mother, travel to Milan to find a better life, away from the poverty of the south.  They are a close-knit family, willing to work to provide for each other.  As the years go by, set against the backdrop of a changing, modernizing Italy, the family is torn apart by a prostitute, Nadia (Annie Girardot), who comes between Rocco and Simone. 

Told in five chapters, separated by time, and headlined by each brother's first name, Visconti's work centers on the respective siblings as they each deal with their own set of cards.  Each of their story and circumstance are intertwined with one another—there's a sense that no one can escape from who they are, but there is an innate desire to be their own person, for better or worse. 

The genius of Visconti is that he paints each character on a larger canvas.  We are just as aware of the intimacy of the familial relationships as the bigger, extraneous forces of economics and politics that threaten to consume the entire family.  The performances by the ensemble cast are extraordinary, if also occasionally exaggerating in a fierce melodramatic way. 

Rocco and His Brothers takes us to places that few directors would have attempted—at least in the early '60s—for a story about family.  In particular, a huge rift between Simone and Rocco at the midpoint of the film reveals deeply-rooted anxieties over masculinity and dignity.  All in all, Visconti's work is powerful, and despite its length, unexpectedly entertaining.  Nino Rota's beautiful Fellini-esque score also adds to its rich flavour.  A must watch!

Verdict:  One of Visconti’s very finest, this three-hour epic is a powerful and entertaining melodrama about the love-hate relationships among five brothers set against the backdrop of a modernizing Italy.  


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