Rocco And His Brothers Review
At the end of the 1950s, Rosaria Parondi (Paxinou), a widow, moves to Milan with four of her sons – Rocco (Delon), Simone (Salvatori), Ciro (Cartier) and Luca (Vidolazzi). The death of the father has meant a re-evaluation of family life and, perhaps, the end of an era. Rural life in Luciana has not prepared the boys for urban living and when they move in with their eldest brother Vincenzo, many adjustments have to be made. Poverty constantly beckons, much as it did down in the South, but the boys keep the wolf from the door with odd-jobs and Simone, already the toughest and most feral of the brothers, has some success as a boxer. Simone meets and has an affair with Nadia (Giradot), a prostitute whom he mistreats. Rocco also falls in love with her and the rift between the brothers leads inexorably to violent tragedy.
Luchino Visconti made Rocco and His Brothers as a kind of follow-up to La Terra Trema, taking the rural lifestyle and slamming it brutally against the very different life in the urban North. The film marks his final return to neo-realism following his diversion into the ethereal dreamlife of La Notte Bianche. It’s a much sparser film than Visconti had made for some time, certainly compared to the opulent 19th century melodrama Senso and its sense of gritty, almost aggressive realism is palpable right from the opening scenes in the railway station. Working with his DP Guiseppe Rotunno, Visconti turns Milan into an impersonal labyrinth of urban sprawl where the brothers, having grown up in the fresh air of Lucania, immediately get lost and gradually lose their sense of identity. For Simone, it’s a release since the violence of the city matches the violence of his spirit but for Rocco, it’s a tragic dislocation since there is no place for his essential goodness and some kind of corruption is inevitable. The relocation of population to the North, necessitated by poverty and hunger, is an important theme in Italian social history and Visconti makes the most of it, examining how the necessary movement impacts both on society – overcrowding in particular became a huge problem - and the individual. Both as a Marxist and an aristocrat, Visconti makes the film a lament for something vanishing. It’s the same tone and atmosphere that is so omnipresent in his work from Senso right through to The Innocent. All the time, hope turns to disillusion in Visconti’s work and so it is here – Rocco hopes to return some day to his idyllic dream of life down south but this can never be. Equally, Simone dreams of finding happiness with Nadia but due to both his nature and hers, disappointment is inevitable. Only Ciro seems to find some kind of accomodation with his new environment but even then, storm clouds gather over the final scene suggesting a turbulent future lies in store.
But it would be a mistake to approach the film solely as a work of neo-realism. It begins in relatively documentary fashion but soon transforms into something much more familiar and, indeed, classical in Italian culture – it becomes an all-stops-out melodrama. The decline of the brothers is a subject which has its own fascination but the arrival of Nadia offers the possibility of grand tragedy. Simone’s obsession becomes dangerous and Rocco, mistakenly thinking he is doing the right thing, gives up his own possibility of happiness in order to save his brother. The brothers become enemies in a manner which seems inexorable and the final cataclysm seems, as in all great tragic narratives, impossible to avoid. As in much of Visconti’s best work, there’s an element of trashy bestseller to this and the need to know what happens next is what gives the film its momentum. The decision to structure the film as a series of chapters – one for each brother – also works well in keeping things moving, although I’m not so sure that it’s entirely necessary since the central triangular relationship is structurally strong enough to maintain the whole film and the other brothers, apart from Luca, aren’t so well defined as Rocco and Simone.
The actors are generally superb although I always remember the famous comment that “Visconti cast with his cock!” Indeed, if one were looking for a catalogue of homoerotic imagery, Rocco and His Brothers would give them much to work on. Certainly, Alain Delon is impossibly beautiful, which is perhaps appropriate given how impossibly saintly his character is. Equally, Renato Salvatori is obviously Visconti’s ideal bit of rough as his body is caressed by the camera during his fights and the aftermath. But both actors do an excellent job – Salvatori is brilliant throughout – and the women, notably Annie Giradot, do what is required of them very well. Visconti’s understanding of women is a little limited however and the female characters tend to be one-dimensional and defined by their profession or social status.
Rocco and His Brothers was a nightmare to film for Visconti. The film was denied shooting permits, locations were deemed unavailable or unsuitable and, once it was finished, key scenes were chopped out. It’s impossible to conceive of watching the film without the frenzied violence committed during the climax but Italian audiences in 1960 were forced to. The resulting film, remarkable in itself, is even more impressive when one considers how Visconti managed to jump through these hoops and complete it anyway. The fact that we still have a full version, thanks to Guiseppe Rotunno, is one of those miracles of film history. Rocco and His Brothers marked Visconti’s farewell to neo-realism but, along with Senso, marked his move into a type of film which was huge and operatic, operating a firmly on a melodramatic level as a realist one. As a key point in his career, it’s essential viewing. As an exciting, moving and intelligent movie, it’s highly entertaining,
The Masters of Cinema series has gained a formidable reputation and new entries have a lot to live up to. Thankfully, Rocco and His Brothers has been given a superb release; a fine transfer is matched with fascinating and detailed extra features.
The 1.85:1 transfer is framed at about 1.80:1 and is progressive and anamorphically enhanced. On the whole, it offers an excellent image with impressively deep and true blacks and plenty of fine detail throughout, although this goes more for close-ups and middle distance sequences. Background detail is a bit more hazy. There is some also occasional aliasing in places but the overall effect is very pleasing.
Two monophonic soundtrack options are offered, one in Italian and one in French. Both are eminently clear and the French track has the advantage of allowing us to hear Annie Giradot and Alain Delon speaking in their native language.
The package of extras is very generous, despite the lack of a commentary track – and given that the disc comes with a 40 page booklet, a commentary might well be considered surplus to requirements.
This comes from 1960 and details some of the cinema awards given during the year. It’s a very gossipy piece and as much a love letter to the likes of Monica Vitti, Liz Taylor and Sophia Loren as anything else. It’s relevance to the film, apart from giving a taste of Italian high-life at the time, is that it includes a shot of Alain Delon receiving an award for Rocco and His Brothers.
A newsreel from 1960 which briefly examines the filming of Rocco in Milan and also includes some footage of newlyweds Renato Salvatori and Annie Giradot.
Original Italian Trailer
A contemporary trailer from the first release of the film which pompously refuses to show any dialogue scenes, concentrating instead on a series of powerful images and an over-excited voiceover which claims that it is “the greatest film in the history of cinema”.
Les Coulisses Du Tournage
An excellent twenty minute French documentary which looks in some depth at the making of the film and covers the more controversial elements, including the footage which was removed after the premiere. The version of the film on the DVD is, thankfully, completely uncut. Although the running time is short, an intelligent commentary and well chosen visual material means that not a second is wasted.
Guiseppe Rotunno Interview
Rotunno is interviewed for Italian television and discusses his career in some depth. The interview lasts 27 minutes and covers his apprenticeship as a camera operator and his big break working as DP for the final part of the Senso shoot. He explains his philosophy of working – that the DP is subordinate to the director and is responsible for putting the director’s ideas on screen, rather than his own. He discusses Ava Gardner – who wanted to put him on a permanent contract – and working with Fellini, De Sica and Monicelli. Rotunno is enthusiastic and eloquent, enthusing you with the desire to watch the films he has photographed again – not that anyone needs encouragement to go back to The Leopard of course.
Annie Giradot Interview
Looking remarkably good for her age, Annie Giradot is interviewed about working with Visconti, a man who obviously had a huge impact on her. She begins with her first Visconti experience, working on a play with Jean Marais, and explains how this led to her casting as Nadia in Rocco. While shooting the film, she fell in love with Renato Salvatori. Giradot is witty, insightful and full of mischief, never missing the opportunity to make the most of a bit of scandalous gossip.
Claudia Cardinale Interview
This interview, dating from 1999, sees Claudia Cardinale, still blessed with her natural beauty, talking about her early career, working with Visconti and her experiences in Hollywood where she felt frustrated being cast as ‘the European’. Cardinale is quite reserved and carefully avoids any indiscretion, letting go only tantalising titbits such as “Hitchcock was very weird…”
Luchino Visconti RAI Documentary
An absolutely first rate hour long documentary from Italian television which acts as a valuable primer on the work of Visconti. Those unfamiliar with his work will gain an overview here while fans will enjoy the interviews with many people who worked closely with him – Burt Lancaster, Guiseppe Rotunno, Jean Marais and Claudia Cardinale amongst others. There are lots of good anecdotes – the notion of Cinema magazine in the early 1940s being a gathering place for the likes of Visconti, Antonioni and Rossellini, Visconti’s adventures in horse racing, the famous one about wanting Olivier for The Leopard and being appalled by the suggestion of Burt Lancaster. The interviewees are generous- Burt Lancaster says it was the best working experience of his life. The film clips are a bit ropey in places - Senso looks awful – making you thankful for the restorations undertaken by companies such as MoC, Criterion and the BFI.
This is a fantastic release of a very fine movie from Masters of Cinema and is highly recommended on every count.