Rocco e i suoi fratelli
Most of Visconti's works in the 1960s were based on literary, novels about historic upheavals and cultural shifts. The screenplay, penned by Visconti, Suso Enrico Medioli, is based on the novel "The Bridge of Ghisolfa," by Giovanni Testor. However, as the critic Peter Bondanella has pointed out, through personal, and idiosyncratic, interpretation of these novels, Visconti has infused them with a distinctive approach, defined by narrative, set designs, costumes and camera angles.
Brilliantly shot in black-and-white by the ace lenser Giuseppe Rotunno, the film boasts an epic running time of 175 minutes and spans a period of 12 years or so, but it's never dull for a moment. (Beware of shorter versions, such as the one that played theatrically in the U.S. in the early 1960s).
Essentially, the movie unfolds as a sweeping, highly emotional family Greek tragedy, an involving melodrama that's superlatively acted by the entire ensemble, headed by Greek-born Katina Paxinou (Oscar winner in 1943 for "For Whom the Bell Tolls"), hearththrob Alain Delon (at his most handsome), and French actress Annie Girardot.
On one level, "Rocco and His Brothers" is sort of a follow-up to "The Earth Trembles," considered by many scholars to be one of the first seminal Italian neo-realist films (though seen in the West years after being made). The movie deals with a major culture clash, a result of the migration of Southern Italians to Northern industrial areas, such as Milan, where the movie is set. As a melodrama, "Rocco and His Brothers" offers a wonderfully detailed portrait of one family, the Parondis, and their daily struggle to survive in a "foreign" milieu like Milan.
The film bears thematic similarities to the 1940s film, "The Earth TRembles," the saga of the Valastro family, which depicts how the Valastros leave Sicily for the "continent," as the mainland is called by the islanders. Like "Earth Trembles," in "Rocco," Visconti deals with the dramatic clash of different value systems, juxtaposing a traditional Southern peasant family, defined by archaic code of honor, with a more individual and contempo morality, which reflects the Italy's emerging industrial society. On another, more symbolic level, Visconti focuses on a single family as a microcosm to Italy's rapid postwar industrialization
Katina Paxinou, plays Rosaria, the strong matriarch who rules the Parondi clan with firm hand and quite a few demands. When the story begins, she arrives at the Milan train station with her four sons: Simone (Renato Salvatori), Rocco (Alain Delon), Ciro (Max Cartier), and Luca. She is met by the eldest son, Vincenso (Spiros Focas), who's already established in the city with steady employment and engaged to be married.
Vincenso's efforts to bridge the old ways with the new ways are undermined by the mother, whose old-fashioned, family-dominated view cause him to lose his job and threaten his relationship with Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale), his fiancée. Simone (Renato Sdalvatori), a handsome but brutish lad becomes a boxer, but his promising career is ruined by lack of discipline, male chauvinist attitude, and destructive affair with Nadia (Annie Gierardot), a prostitute who's herself an immigrant.
Rocco (Alain Delon) is the kindest and gentlest of the brothers, but he, too, cannot escape the burden of the family and its past. When Rocco falls in love with Nadia, Simone's feels angry and threatened. The movie contrasts traditional macho sexuality of animalistic men who don't and can't understand women with those who feel genuine love and respect for them. As vengeance, with Rocco as a witness, Simone rapes Nadia, reclaiming his "property rights." He then beats Rocco and abandons Nadia, who dies like a Christ figure, arms stretched out, while embracing Simone and falling on his knife.
Rocco's subservience to his family is expressed in a conversation with Nadia, set atop Milan's cathedral. He suggests that she must return to Simone, because he really needs her; Nadia can't understand that. Later on, Rocco becomes a prizefighter so that he can make enough money to cover Simone's debts
A martyr figure, Rocco is positioned between the brutish and instinctive Simone and Ciro (Max Cartier), a technician in the Alfa Romeo factory, who rejects the traditional code of morality, which he believes has already destroyed his older brothers. After the murder, both Rocco and his mother protect Simone from the the authorities, but Ciro turns his bother into the police, choosing legal justice over loyalty to the family. Still a small, innocent boy, Luca can't understand the issues of code of honor or the melodrama around him.
Rocco and Simone are the film's two most fully realized men, with motivations, psychology, and values all their own. In the best noir tradition, their fates become intertwined through their love for the same girl, Nadia. But some critics have pointed out that Vince, Ciro and Luca are more of abstract figures, or types, rather than fully developed characters.
While Visconti tries to links the melodrama and micro events to larger historical and cultural forces, he is not concerned with unions, strikes, racism, crime, inherent problems in the immigration processes. Throughout, the director's point of view remains ambiguous and ambivalent, as it is in his next film, the masterpiece "The Leopard." The scholar Nowell-Smith has correctly observed that, "there's constant tension in Visconti's work between an intellectual belief in the cause of progress and an emotional nostalgia for the past world, which inevitably is being destroyed.
Rocco Parondi (Alain Delon)
Simone Parondi (Renato Salvatori)
Nadia (Annie Girardot)
Rosaria Parondi (Katina Paxinou)
Morini (Roger Hanin)
Boxing impresario (Paolo Stoppa)
Luisa (Suzy Delair)
Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale)
Vincenzo Parondi (Spiros Focas)
Ciro Parondi (Max Cartier)
Produced by Giuseppe Bordogni
Directed by Luchino Visconti
Screenplay: Visconti, Suso Enrico Medioli, based on the novel The Bridge of Ghisolfa, by giovanni Testori
Camera: Giuseppe Rotunno
Editor: Mario Serandrei
Music: Nino Rota
Art director: Mario Garbuglia
Costumes: Pietro Tosi
Running time: 175 Minutes