Rocco and His Brothers
Directed by Luchino Visconti
When a widow’s family moves to the big city, two of her sons become romantic rivals, with deadly results.
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★★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
Luchino Visconti’s epic melodrama of social migration and moral decay was first released in 1960, when it was met with great scandal (a prosecutor threatened to charge the director with “disseminating an obscene object”) and even greater success. Today, distanced from ridiculous controversy and dislocated from the provincial politics that drive its story, this immaculately restored classic of post-WWII Italian cinema often feels like a new experience altogether.
★★★★★ review by Tyler on Letterboxd
Luchino Visconti's Rocco and His Brothers is an epic, in every sense of the word. It is a three hour film following one generation of a family, in the form of four brothers, their worrisome, frantic mother and one woman, Nadia, who becomes involved with two of the brothers. It is marvellously directed, and the cast are all absolutely perfect in their roles, inhabiting them with skill and stunning power. The film is 170 minutes long but never less than riveting, and like Visconti's subsequent film The Leopard, it well earns its place as an all-time classic. Visconti, a severely underrated director who ranks right up there with Fellini and Antonioni as a vital, important Italian for the film industry, has crafted a movie that reminds us why it is we love the movies. Rocco and His Brothers is wonderful, flawless, overwhelming, emotional and fantastic. A marvel of a film.
★★★★★ review by Calib McBolts on Letterboxd
This tragic portrait of social change among a family of five brothers is a powerfully authentic, and ridiculously influential neorealist melodrama that is operatic in its execution and intimate in its telling creating a richly alive atmosphere in which these fascinatingly troubled characters operate.
Rocco and His Brothers is a film of overwhelming ferocity and love. Luchino Visconti, the Italian maestro who helmed this masterwork, lays down the most naked essentials of the family drama, and stretches the potentially stagy narrative to a sprawling 3 hours of visceral understanding. It displays all the delicacies of a family that feels about half that length because these characters just absorb you. Their lives become so meaningful and tangible, and when the story begins to turn tragic it is almost too much to take.
Despite some occasionally poor ADR, this film features three of the greatest performances of all time. One by Annie Girardot, one by Renato Salvatori and one by Alain Deloin. The characters of Nadia, Simone and Rocco and their complex relationship dynamics is what launches this film into the masterpiece pantheon of 60's screen classics. These people make the three-hour runtime easily digestible because you are transfixed by everything they do.
Visconti moves his camera around these characters in numerous long takes to detail the tragedy of a family fighting poverty, repression, and a loyalty to each other enforced by their protective and religious mother. The soundtrack by Nino Rota (One of my 3 favorite film composers), which glaringly evokes his later masterwork The Godfather, underscores each moment of heart wrenching sincerity with organic passion.
#127 on: Top 250 Favorite Films of All-Time
Added to: Favorite Females in Film
★★★★★ review by James on Letterboxd
1960 was the year for Italian cinema, Antonioni and Fellini stunned audiences with L'Avventura and La Dolce Vita respectively, whilst Luchino Visconti wowed the world with own epic masterpiece, Rocco and His Brothers.
Opening in what at first appears to be typical neo-realist fashion; a poor Southern family moving to Milan to find work whilst living in shabby conditions, quickly becomes far more elaborate as the stories of the five brothers intersect and overlap across the vast three hour runtime. Often hailed as 'operatic', there's no better word to describe it, this is a melodrama of colossal ambitions and profound revelations. Visconti himself from a privileged background seemingly wanted to explore the struggle of working class life in post-war industrial Italy and the hypocrisies of the class structure itself.
Despite remaining firmly rooted in realism, the overwhelming and labyrinthine narrative draws it out further into the realms of visual poetry and high art. Every shot by cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno sparkles with vivid silvery elegance, each frame meticulously composed to the most precise instruction. The stigma of being from the undesirable south lingers and the pressures of urban life soon drive the brothers apart, this brutal deconstruction of the tight-knit family unit across a far-flung narrative as well as the rise-and-fall of its individual units serves as an influential precursor to the likes of both The Godfather series and several of Scorsese's works.
The sprawling, novelistic running time never gets dull and as each brother gets his own segment we are allowed to intimately know the ins and outs of their personalities, struggles and relationships with their siblings. The significance of Rocco, played with charming humanity by Alain Delon gradually becomes clear as the burden that he carries, not only for himself but for his family becomes the heaviest of all. Visconti offers a scathing social commentary in what is often an unbearably brutal film and creates a detailed document of what life was like in this particular city at this particular time.
The restoration of this classic to its former glory is gorgeous and looks fabulous on blu-ray.
★★★★★ review by the cutest puffin on Letterboxd
Bombastic and incredibly detailed in how many characters and arcs intertwine and clash, Rocco and His Brothers is an epic in the grandest sense. Burdened by what came before, broken by the present, and hopeful for the future, the complexity of motivation and of so many lives running separately instead of simply pausing for the main story, this level of depth in comradery and its partial collapse is so exceptional because of how alive everything and everyone feels. Amidst the intimidating and concrete landscape are characters building and breaking themselves, as well as others. The care in its detail, the care in bringing not just its leading cast to life but also those who are even so much as indirectly involved. Like The Godfather or A Brighter Summer Day in the following decades, it takes time both to set the atmosphere and also give every participant their time to think, to breathe, better explaining how they might act under pressure before it happens. And as such, it's difficult to place characters under simple roles or explanations, but rather they exist to be sympathetic additions to the story at large. It is a film of many seemingly incidental details, all obviously purposeful, but Luchino Visconti hides this so well that they feel like they are there simply because it was a part of their own path in life and in family.
With a story so gripping, it's easy to let the film roll by without comment on its filmmaking. But when stepping back and acknowledging those technical aspects, it's as much an achievement in direction as it is in screenwriting. Visconti balances each plotline engagingly and comfortably, never letting characters or moments get lost amidst so much already happening. On a visual level Visconti is also tremendously ambitious. My personal favorite technique is how often he blocks the sides of the frames during more intimate moments, which lets the genuine moments needing wide and expansive shots form simply by removing those natural and subtle blocks. He also has always done well with lighting, especially shooting actual light sources in a distant and large fashion I don't see many directors try. Obviously his most iconic use of this was with the boats in La Terra Trema, but the boxing in this film for example is another terrific use of large light sources amidst surrounding darkness.
And its influence is unsung by most newer film fans, unfortunately being overshadowed in favor of the few foreign-language classics that even reach a mainstream platform anymore (Seven Samurai, The Good the Bad and the Ugly, Das Boot, Bicycle Thieves...). It's strange this film is left out of the conversation considering it's shorter than half of them, as accessible as most of them, and had direct influence on some of film's most iconic greats, most notably Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. I'm not asking for this film to replace anything, but when people expect to find a sea of boredom and pretension beneath the few foreign classics they watch and enjoy, I hope those moments of curiosity bring them here.
Lastly, the film's performances are notably closer to overacting than most other films that pride themselves on being grounded and realistic. I don't see this as a detraction of its realism, but instead an expression of emotion exaggerated to its most intense without going into just complete hysterical expressionism. It works because Visconti builds these extreme emotions to be extremely warranted, and anything less than what these performers deliver might feel like they're underselling the feeling of the situation. Certainly a more subdued cast could have done the film just as well, but I have no issues with the current situation. Between so many phenomenal performances, with Alain Delon's vulnerability, Annie Girardot's determination, and Katina Paxinou's passion all being highlights. However my personal favorite comes from Renato Salvatori, who delivers some of the most telling and haunting stares of any film. The man, and the film's entire cast for that matter, are so lost in character that it feels strange imagining them on set or after the cameras would stop rolling. I guess that's part of why it's so engrossing. Even someone as iconic as Alain Delon, for the film's three hour running time, I can't imagine him playing anyone else.
With three hours so tightly knit and viciously intense, not many journeys resemble that of Rocco and His Brothers. Not the work it may have been inspired by, nor the work that was eventually inspired by it. It's a film where runtime stops being a consideration altogether due to its brilliant way of immersing its viewers. More than simply being operatic, it gives the exaggerated emotions a purpose that makes even its most heightened feelings justified and understandable. It's hard to lose focus on the film, its eerie and empty streets of threatening concrete apartments, and the people you dare to care for.
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