- Rocco and His Brothers is one of the greatest directors of all time, Luchino Visconti, at the height of his powers. If this isn’t his single best work, it is his follow-up to this, The Leopard in 1963 is, so this stretch in his career is his peak (also the peak for so many other auteurs including fellow Italian countryman Antonioni and Fellini).
- It is a saga—a tragedy about five brothers – the Parondi brothers- it covers all five brothers with their own chapters (but they intersect of course a great deal) over the course of a decade. It is big—powerful storytelling and Visconti pairs that with a handsomely mounted large cinematic canvas. It picks up with them arriving in Milan on the train with everything they own on their backs.
- It is a story of industrialization and migration—this is a spiritual sequel to Visconti’s 1948 closest-he-ever-came-to-Neorealism film La Terra Trema– this family could be from that village. It has been compared to Grapes of Wrath and I see that as well
- Nino Rota did the score—harrowing—it is just one of the many parallels with The Godfather (the story of a single Italian family and brothers, the rise and fall, the leader of the brothers (Alain Delon’s Rocco here) doing a stint in the army. This is clearly an important text to Coppola and Coppola shares Visconti’s almost operatic style and influence of Greek tragedy
- After their arrival in Milan they go to the oldest brother’s engagement party with Visconti designing the frame like von Sternberg with streamers obstructing. Grand mise-en-scene and lets the drama play out in wide shots
- Chapter breaks for each of the brothers
- A charming scene of the “hicks” seeing snow for seemingly the first time (also excited about making money- they shovel)—Visconti, though not a purist like the Dardennes or Rossellini—is a realist—there is nothing happening here really in this scene but he plays it out for five minutes showing the brothers and their mother interacting. Building.
- The introduction of Annie Girardot’s Nadia character at the 27 minute mark- frame obstructed by a light bulb and bicycle in foreground. A tragic Greek character if I ever saw one on screen- and a breathtaking performance from Girardot – along with Delon- the finest in the film
- Visconti uses character blocking and depth of field to design the frame like Welles or Kurosawa—at 34 minutes Delon is in the background middle on a chair with a leg in the air. It is a cinematic painting. The youngest brother Luca in the middle-right and Simone is foreground left- a stunner.
- The Simone chapter at 47 minutes-a thief, hothead, violent, a gambler, Delon’s Rocco is next, he’s quiet, not especially bright, sacrificial– there’s a Cain and Abel Biblical reading here.
- At 114 minutes is the very strong cathedral set-piece sequence– rooftop of Milan’s Duomo—Visconti creating an angle with the camera to focus on foreground and background depth of field- magnificent
- This was a controversial film. The Simone character sells himself to another man for money. And at the half-way point we get the rape scene and sequence. It is horrifying—devastating. It also foreshadows (and perfectly mirrors) the climatic murder sequence finale
- The Ciro sequence chapter at 122 minutes- these are rich characters- each of the brothers along with Nadia and the mother.
- The boxing sequences are handsomely mounted, too. Crisp black and white photography. 150 min mark as the lights of the arena come up before Rocco’s big bout
- Simone and Nadia in the forest scene is beautiful (and of course, beautifully tragic) on its own—Visconti arranging them among the trees and bouncing the streetlight off the water. But it is also intercut with another scene (Rocco’s big fight) adding a layer to it—and it is a callback mirroring the rape earlier—yet another layer. This has to have had an influence on Coppola’s trademark murder montages. Nadia raises her arms and they extend beyond Simone’s body as he comes at her with a blade—wow.
- Luca’s sequence starts at 161 minutes (this is a 179 minute epic). It has Rocco’s somber toast (brilliantly written). The drama that ensues is heavy. Everyone is screaming- it does feel like they should almost be singing opera it is so emotional and when you combine Rota’s score this is where the neorealist purists jump off the ship here with both the film and Visconti. But he’s not a pure realist—he infuses operatic melodrama throughout and earns the emotional high wire act. It absolutely works.
- It ends on Luca in the street as it should in a long shot—their story continuing on.
- A masterpiece—towering achievement
it’s playing on tcm i should watch it. thanks for the suggestion.
Okey Drake, this is great, I was planning to see it in a few days, but with a review it is much better, thanks.
Aldo I just watched it today. It was very great and it feels like you’ve known the characters for years. What a brilliant epic. Did you catch it yet.
[…] Rocco and His Brothers – Visconti […]
I am basically clueless as far as Visconti goes and I started out with this one and it is truly harrowing. It is absolutely devastating – the film stayed with me a couple of days after I saw it. First thing I couldn’t stop noticing is the lighting, the use of light and shadow. As far as I can understand from comments on Senso, the Leopard or Death in Venice, Visconti was big with colour, so it should be impressive that he manages to excel in stark black and white photography. The contrasts are strong, it makes for dark compositions and it adds to the visceral atmosphere and tone the film achieves. Rocco appeared to be a striking blend of several elements – it is part neorealist, but not really, unmistakably operatic and at times melodramatic (in a very classically tragic way – like Sirk – it doesn’t seem off – this is a world where people function on a first level, emotion and passion driven). Also, I am not aware of the degree to which this is typical for Visconti, but there is use of architecture as a character, much like in Antonioni, the characters get swallowed by the urban industrialised environment. It becomes very apparent in the sequence following the rape, Rocco and Simone wrestling, navigating an ominous Milan by night. There is a clear influence on Scorsese – the lighting and photography capture the wrestling scenes beautifully, and even though this is clearly no Raging Bull, I would bet it is a precursor or an inspiration. Scorsese is a very vocal admirer of the film, regardless. The theme of cohesive units coming undone is also seen, in Scorsese again, but Coppola as well. The Godfather bears similarities in size, scope, themes, narrative and most poignantly Nino Rota (a legend)’s imposing music. The cathedral sequence is indeed a highlight – wellesian angles, grand canvas and a somewhat expressionistic approach towards emotion, melodrama. There is care when it comes to form as well, with the chapter breaks shifting the focus from brother to brother. It has the marks of ambitious epic storytelling. So far we have a neorealist, dark, black and white, operatic epic – unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in my years as a film buff. The climactic murder-boxing sequence is absolutely transcendent -and traumatic. It’s not an easy watch by any means. I thought the rape scene was difficult enough. Little did I know *sigh*. This is the closest a film has ever been to Greek tragedy. Visconti, ever fluidly interchanging between theatre, opera and film, cast Girardot as Nadia (most haunting character) after directing her in a classical tragedy on stage. What Visconti communicates through his work is up for debate. There is a point to be made that it is a study on (and critique of) traditional masculinity in a cultural context. Visconti’s ideological background (and actually his own statements) suggest we’re talking about a system the shortcomings and inner workings of which generate violence and cruelty. On a realist level, we’re dealing with migration, poverty, depravity, the working class’ struggles to survive, assimilate. Regardless of how one reads between the lines, there is a pattern here which allows us to understand Rocco as a saintly figure, whereas Simone as the beastly embodiment of violence. It is interesting, how Simone appears as an uncomplicated, kind character. The capacity for cruelty is within each and every one of us, Visconti seems to say. Rocco is a kind soul, observant, considerate, caring, unselfish. He places familial values and unity above his own needs. Introspective and sensitive, his conflicting emotions numb him, rendering him a victim to the desires of the mercurial Simone. The true martyr here is Nadia. Her character is one of the most intriguing cinematic creations of that era. A tragic figure on all accounts. Unable to escape her position, change her life around, entrapped between two colliding worlds, searching for hope, the possibility of happiness promised by Rocco, but incapable of escaping the overbearing Simone. After being raped, she turns to Rocco “say something, tell me that…”, she pauses and walks away, crushed. Her reaching out to something, anything, a kind of green light, but unable to touch it – devastating. The final scene – brutal, scarring – she raises her hands, her stance resembling that of a person crucified – it is poetic, tragic. Visconti draws haunting performances from his cast. Cardinale tries her best to not look like a star, and she is lovely in a balanced supporting role. Paxinou, a legend of the stage (never quite transitioned to film though), is perfect as the quintessential Mediterranean mother. Salvatori is a beast here – there is a horrifying duality to his character and it registers very well – even if it is hard for me to compliment his performance as a character I despise with such passion. I always thought there was an absent mindedness and aloofness about Delon, which is generally limiting, and some accuse him of being unconvincing here, but I thought his performance was one of the film’s highlights. So pious, in a way. He outlines the titular character beautifully, in all his quiet perseverance, pensiveness and bravery. Girardot is indeed breathtaking. Magnetic and unbelievably natural and real. The rawness of her work doesn’t get enough recognition – the scene as she talks with Simone in front of the hotel Britannia, the way she plays with her scarf and hat, her wandering eyes. Visconti was known for his dedicated approach, so it is hard to pinpoint whether we’re talking of improvisation here, but this is Marlon Brando and Eva Marie Saint playing with the glove in On the Waterfront. She’s that good. The tragedy of her character, her cries for help, either vocal or quiet – an unforgettable performance. It’s fitting for an unforgettable film. Rocco and His Brothers is a proud masterpiece.
@Georg- Amazing- thank you for putting this together. This is a very good read.
Oh my god, the comments are back
It’s good to be back
It is wondrously excellent and exquisitely fantastic to be back, you mean
Cheers to being back
I’m overjoyed! This was a lesson in never losing hope. Thanks to Drake for restoring the site.
@Graham @Georg @Zane and @Harry- thank you and my apologies for all the issues on the site. Growing pains. I think we’re through the worst of it I think. I appreciate your patience.
We knew it had to be coming back someday! Congratulations on getting through it. Web design must be really something.
No worries. Sometimes you need a little tragedy in life to know just how good it’s been, and we enjoyed seeing the recent pages regardless of our inability to discuss them.
This is just an idle suggestion, but it might be beneficial to find another method of communication if another cyberapocalypse occurs here. I and two other Archiveans have been talking on this Letterboxd page: https://letterboxd.com/cyrusthegreat/list/favorite-25-films-of-all-time-tspdt-poll/ . I’m not sure if you have an account on Letterboxd, but it’s a resource I’d highly recommend. Zane also mentioned there that it would probably be nice if you created a post here on the Archives acknowledging such a situation in case it happens. Finally, I attempted to contact you through the Contact Us page recently, but it seems that you can’t see the messages we send there. I’m not sure if there’s a way to configure that page such that we can correspond.
@Graham– thanks. I have heard nothing but good things about letterboxd and see the value– I just have all my time wrapped up in getting this up and running again. And agreed- I would have love to post to let people know what’s going on and apologize- but the issues on the site were such that was impossible. All the new posts over the last few weeks were scheduled to go out already and changing those to add a message about the site wasn’t possible.
I only just now realized this a few days later, but as you know, Visconti worked with Renoir as an assistant director on Toni and A Day in the Country. Even though Visconti did not work on this film, do you think the plot of La Chienne, with Lulu, the prostitute, entering a relationship with Maurice — who eventually kills her —influenced Visconti in Rocco, doing the same thing with Nadia and Simone?
@Zane- Yeah I can see that. Good call out. This sort of suicidal/fatalistic love is certainly in much of Visconti’s work from Ossessione to Senso