• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:November 9, 2021

Rocco and His Brothers: Life in the North


It took 40 years for Rocco and His Brothers to be fully restored to its original running time, a victory over censors who made sure the film was butchered after its premiere. There were many reasons for Italian conservatives to be shocked, maybe not the actual violence as much as certain scenes and themes. Did they care as much about the horrifying rape of Annie Girardots character as they did about her panties being kicked onto Alain Delon’s head in the scene? And then there was obviously the intriguing moment where a boxing patron watches a naked Renato Salvatori in the shower; the gay subtext isn’t clear, but still there.

Rocco and His Brothers is a rich epic that needs its three hours to evolve properly.

Arriving in Milan
When we first meet the Parondis, they are arriving in Milan after a long journey from southern Italy. It’s a poor family without a patriarch, now consisting of Rosaria (Katina Paxinou) and her five sons, Vincenzo (Spiros Focas), Rocco (Delon), Simone (Salvatori), Ciro (Max Cartier) and Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi). Vincenzo is already in Milan where he’s set to marry Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale). When his four brothers and Rosaria suddenly appear on Ginetta’s family’s doorstep, the clash is immediate. Neither family wants anything to do with one another, causing headache for the two young lovers.

Rosaria and her four younger sons move into an apartment of their own and try to make something of their lives in Milan. Simone turns to boxing and falls in love with Nadia (Girardot), a prostitute. However, much heartache lies waiting for the Parondis…

A return to neorealism
Divided into five chapters, the film unfolds like a good novel, focusing on the different perspectives of the brothers over some time. The script was primarily inspired by a part of Giovanni Testori’s novel ”The Bridge of Ghisolfa”, but Luchino Visconti borrowed from other sources as well, including Thomas Mann. Left-wing critics hailed Visconti’s return to neorealism and he was clearly interested in the conflict between north and south in Italy. In the film, rural southerners arrive in the prosperous northern city as strangers, watching its glamour and lights. Like any other immigrant, they have to create a new life and it’s far from easy.

The Parondis remain rubes essentially and they spend the entire film challenging our sympathies and emotion – but that’s part of the appeal. Vincenzo may be the oldest brother, but as soon as he starts his family with Ginetta he’s more or less out of the story, remaining an ideal new Milanese. Rocco is the conscience, taking on a role of sacrifice that may seem hard to understand. His main objective is to keep his family happy, regardless of the sins they commit, regardless of how much he’ll have to sacrifice his own well-being. He’s in constant conflict with Simone, the boxer whose romance with Nadia becomes unbearably dark; he’s a tragically timeless symbol of toxic masculinity. The brothers represent independence and loyalty in different ways; the former trait is shared not just by Vincenzo but also Ciro who becomes the one who has to break with his family’s sick dynamic and do what’s necessary near the end of the film.

Nino Rota’s music is varied in effective ways, some of it reportedly inspiring Francis Ford Coppola to hire him for the Godfather score. It’s a great cast, with Girardot a stand-out. The character of Rocco may be frustrating, but Visconti keeps the drama vivid and lively throughout, building the film’s darkness with great help from cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno who creates a cold but beautiful impression of Milan. 

Rocco and His Brothers 1960-Italy. 180 min. B/W. Produced by Goffredo Lombardo. Directed by Luchino Visconti. Screenplay: Suso Cecchi D’Amico, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Massimo Franciosa, Enrico Medioli, Luchino Visconti. Cinematography: Giuseppe Rotunno. Music: Nino Rota. Cast: Alain Delon (Rocco Parondi), Renato Salvatori (Simone Parondi), Annie Girardot (Nadia), Katina Paxinou, Claudia Cardinale, Roger Hanin.

Trivia: Original title: Rocco e i suoi fratelli. 



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