Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli) Reviews
As the story unfolds, Simone -the boxer brother- begins to grow fatter and weary, whereas Rocco begins to shine in the same sport... this stirs up jealousy and fear, respectively. When Simone loses the prostitute's love, Rocco wins it, and a dangerous rivalry is thus born. Simone, the decrepit figure -the citadin, corrupted by Milan- becomes Rocco's -the saintly, the countryman- worst enemy. He beats Rocco unconscious after finding him with the girl one evening, and then proceeds to humiliate her in his presence... yet his little brother insists that he should give her up, send her back to Simone, and forgive his brutality. The forces of extreme evil and extreme goodness seem to collide in a series of dramatic sequences, and it is self-evident that neither is ideal. Rocco's irrational good nature harms, instead of protects, him and his loved ones; the same can be said, of course, of Simone's over-the-top machismo.
The real issue that Rocco and his Brothers touches on, to me, is finding the correct balance, the correct place to be, the correct sense of justice. Country or city? Whichever you choose, don't allow you environment to be stronger than your individuality, and so on. The film is thought-provoking but only on one hand, because it is also outstadingly raw, visceral, and earthy in the way that the best Neo-realist films are. So far, this is the highlight of Luchino Visconti's cinematography in my book.
"Rocco" lasts almost three hours, but its central theme is simple: a family losing its innocence. The Parondi clan -- a mother plus sons Simone (Renato Salvatori), Rocco (Alain Delon), Ciro and Luca -- leaves a rural town in southern Italy and moves to Milan. They reunite with eldest son Vincenzo (Spiros Focas), who is engaged to ravishing Ginetta (a pre-stardom Claudia Cardinale, woefully underused).
The families of Vincenzo and Ginetta do not get along, but this is just the start of the Parondis' troubles. They have little money and squeeze themselves into a squalid flat, knowing they soon will be evicted when they can't afford the rent. We learn this is standard procedure for peasants entering the city -- the eviction is actually desirable because it qualifies them for government housing.
Once the family moves to a new apartment, the plot focuses on the brothers' struggles to get ahead. The film has explicitly titled sections for each of the brothers but, really, the story is about Rocco and Simone. The two mirror each other. Simone aspires to be a boxer, and falls in love with a charming prostitute named Nadia (Annie Girardot). Rocco follows his lead, both professionally and romantically. Simone broods and loses his way, while the more poetic, innocent Rocco finds ambivalent success. But tragedy lurks around the corner.
Visconti's direction is always stately and elegant, even when his settings are obviously decrepit. Content to let his characters carry the action, he's not a filmmaker like Fellini or Bertolucci whose roaming camerawork calls attention to itself. He does borrow Fellini stalwart Nino Rota to compose the score, however. Meanwhile, the young Delon and Girardot are especially affecting in their roles -- it's easy to see why both of them had lengthy careers (even if Delon's romantic turn is miles removed from the icy criminals that were his later signature).
Often cited as an influence on "The Godfather" for its operatic depiction of rival brothers, "Rocco and His Brothers" is a landmark saga that should not be missed.
Rocco has 3 other brothers and his anxious mother to care for since the death of his father. The decision is made to move them from a quiet country existence into Milan, Italy, with the hope that more money can be made in the city.
I thought this film was absorbing as Rocco earnestly struggles to provide a good life for his family. He puts all the weight on his shoulders despite the fact that his brothers are quite capable of helping out as well.
I became frustrated as Rocco plays the martyr for his womanizing, alcoholic older brother who keeps messing up while Rocco takes the fall.
To make matters worse they fall in love with the same woman. She is a prostitute who genuinely loves one brother, but becomes more like a pawn in their game than an object of affection. Tragically, this adds to her feelings of self-hatred.
Rocco does not seem to fit in this new world and the film captures how he is torn between loyalty to his family and being true to himself.
Don't worry I didn't give away the entire film, there's much to see in this 3 hour saga. It is a solid narrative. Beautiful actors and beautifully shot, I also found the film to be very satisfying on a visual level.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
'Rocco and his Brothers' begins as the Parondi clan move from their rustic life in Lucania, in the southern part of Italy, to the bustling northern metropolis of Milan. Head of the clan is the mother, Rosaria, a loud, obnoxious woman who can be best described as a worry wart. She brings her four sons, Rocco and Simone (in their early 20s), Ciro, a teenager, and Luca (about eight), to visit Vincenzo, the older brother who is engaged to Ginetta (played by Claudia Cardinale before she became famous). The expectation is that Vincenzo has arranged for his in-laws to put his mother and siblings up until they can obtain permanent lodging. Unfortunately, Rosaria and Ginetta's mother don't get along and Vincenzo is forced to find other quarters for them. Vincenzo consults a maintenance man who advises him that the family can move into an expensive apartment, stop paying the rent after a month and have the City of Milan then put them into decent housing since anyone who has officially been evicted, must be provided with social services by the City.
'Rocco' is divided into five segments, focusing on each of the brothers. The first segment involves Vincenzo whose character appears in stark contrast to his younger siblings. Whereas the newly arrived Parondi's are very unsophisticated (they've never seen snow before) and regarded as country bumpkins by the residents of Milan, Vincenzo is a virtual cosmopolitan. While he has a small part in the film, Vincenzo serves two important purposes: 1) He is held up as less stable than the the younger and more together domestic pillar, Ciro, in that he is never able to facilitate a reconciliation between his mother and in-laws and ends up marrying Ginetta, more out of obligation than complete love, after she accidentally becomes pregnant; and 2) He ends up bumping into Nadia, the prostitute, in the hallway of the family's apartment building, introducing her to his other brothers.
The next segment focuses on Simone who is the film's evil antagonist. All good melodramas need a good villain and Simone fits the bill to a tee. He dates Nadia for only a short time before she becomes sick of him; despite dumping him, in Simone's mind, Nadia has become his possession. Despite his professed love for Nadia, Simone has no guilt feelings about seducing the cleaning store manager where Rocco works. This is after he borrows (without permission) an expensive shirt from the cleaners to go on his date with Nadia. What's more he steals a broach from the store manager and gives it to Nadia as a gift; only to have it returned by Nadia to Rocco with a message to Simone that she doesn't want to see him ever again. For a short time, Simone has some success as a local boxer but soon falls from grace.
The next segment focuses on Rocco who can best be described as an 'enabler'. At the end of the film, Ciro describes Rocco as a 'saint' but criticizes him for forgiving everyone for their transgressions. Rocco's character is the linchpin of the film and he's not a convincing character at all. At first, he wants nothing to do with boxing as he regards it as sleazy. Rocco eventually wants to return to the South where his kind-hearted nature might flourish. After joining the Army, he runs into Nadia and they develop a hot and heavy relationship. This leads to the most dramatic moment in the film, when Simone rapes Nadia in front of Rocco out of jealousy and Rocco in turn orders Nadia to 'go back' to Simone out of some kind of misguided filial obligation. If you believe anyone would have been so attached to his brother after spending so much time trying to show a downtrodden prostitute a new life (and actually ending up transforming her), then perhaps I can sell you the Brooklyn Bridge. I know it's supposed to be an example of a 'family tragedy', but I just don't believe anyone would have done such a thing, especially after he's a direct witness to his girlfriend being raped. Equally unbelievable is the subsequent scene where Nadia is about to spit in Simone's face and tells him she'll never go back to him--and then ends up kissing him and agrees to be his concubine.
The next to last segment focuses on Ciro who is held up as the only well-adjusted brother in the clan. He is in effect, Rocco's better half. After Simone steals thousands of dollars from his former manager, Rocco (now a successful boxer himself), has his manager guarantee money to pay Simone's debts in exchange for a contract which will obligate him to fight for another 10 years. After Simone kills Nadia, Rocco keeps playing the part of the enabler by insisting that everyone in the family keep quiet. But Ciro wisely informs the police who pick Simone up for Nadia's murder. Ciro serves to restore order to the out of kilter Parondi clan. It's Ciro who also wisely tells Luca, in the final segment, that even returning to the south, the supposed fount of innocence, is not a panacea to life's problems since things are constantly changing and no one can predict the outcome of what life has in store for us.
'Rocco and his Brothers' is very well-acted coupled with excellent cinematography. It should have all the ingredients of a masterpiece but doesn't. That's because its main character is not believable. Sure there are plenty of people like Rocco who would bail their brothers out financially even with the knowledge they had done something wrong; but to order their true love back into a destructive relationship with their brother after he just raped her, that's something I couldn't believe.
One sad addendum: Annie Giardot (Nadia) who was married to Renato Salvatori (Simone) in real life, is still alive but has Alzheimer's and has no memory of her former life.
The larger screen lends a lot of power to the photography and the sense that this was the family epic to end all family epics. While Milanese architecture doesn't play as prominent a role as Antonioni's "La Notte", the harsh buildings and unforgiving industrial outskirts are as important as any of the characters. Whether it was just the result of an additional viewing or the new print, I can't be certain, but the eroticism felt more pronounced and uncomfortable this time around. Whether it was in gestures or extreme closeups, I noticed it a lot more this time around.
Alain Delon's title character also played differently this time out. I used to strongly identify with his unrelenting support for his most troubled sibling. Maybe it's my increased ability to healthily detach from unhealthy circumstances, but I kept shaking my head as he never once considered whether allowing some negative consequences could ultimately better his brother. Maybe he needs some therapy.