-MONTHLY FILM & TV REVIEW-
Rocco And His Brothers|
cast: Alain Delon, Annie Giradot, Renato Salvatori, Katina Paxinou, and Claudia Cardinale
director: Luchino Visconti
170 minutes (15) 1960
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Eureka! DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
From the perspective of the world's first industrialised nation it is easy to forget that
most of Europe operated as a rural economy well into the latter half of the 20th century.
Britain's seemingly miraculous feat of standing alone in World War II had as much to do
with the ability to refit ships, turn out tanks, and replace shot down planes, as to reserves
of an indomitable national courage. Despite the picture postcard and chocolate box image of
England, as rolling downs and quaint little villages, the reality is an increasingly urban
environment replacing the age of manufacturing with a dependence on service industries. The
miracle is that parts of the country can still seem relatively deserted.
In France, the aftermath of the war saw de Gaulle usher in a 30-year economic boom but
neither he nor his successor Pompidou faced up to the need for modernisation. Reform in
France was left to Giscard d'Estaing in the 1970s, and deeply unpopular it made him. The
current administration is at odds with the population for similar reasons; in a country
where it was said that planting a row of beans would qualify you for an EU agricultural
grant there is still a reluctance to embrace the reality of the transition of the economy
from the land to the town. As in France so elsewhere in Europe, and this 'peasant' mindset
can appear strange to us in Britain raised to believe that the continent of Europe was the
birthplace of urban sophistication.
The work of Italian director Luchino Visconti addresses transition, the passing of old
ways, values and beliefs. Born into the aristocracy, Visconti embraced radical beliefs
but his work was notable for its empathy and humanism rather than the espousing of political
The widow Rosaria Parondi (Katina Paxinou) takes her four sons Rocco (Alain Delon), Simone
(Renato Salvatori), Ciro and Luca, to Milan to escape the rigours of their peasant existence
in the south. They arrive as their elder brother Vincenzo is celebrating his engagement to
Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale). Rosaria's suspicion and possessiveness almost immediately creates
a rift between herself and Ginetta's family, and the Parondis go off to make their own way
in the city, although Vincenzo and Ginetta will continue to meet in secret and eventually
marry when Ginetta falls pregnant.
The brothers meet a prostitute Nadia (the excellent Annie Girardot) who tells them she
is dating a boxer, and suggests that that is a way out of poverty and the commonplace life.
When lazy Simone is picked up by a local gym and wins his first bout, Nadia is on hand to
show him a good time.
Vincenzo works on a building site, Rocco has a job in a laundry, Ciro works at the new
Alfa Romeo factory, while youngest Luca attends school and passes family messages to his
brothers. When Simone gets too serious about Nadia, even stealing a broach from Rocco's
employer to give to her, Nadia passes word through Rocco that she no longer wishes to
Rocco is called up for military service and meets up with Nadia when he is demobbed; Nadia
has served a sentence for soliciting and the two tentatively embark on a loving affair. Simone
finds out and in a harrowing scene rapes Nadia and beats his brother. Rocco disturbed by the
brutalisation of Simone, convinces himself that his brother's love for Nadia can redeem him,
and sends Nadia back to him. The film has moved from an affecting neo-realist narrative of
a family coping with social change to grim and inevitable tragedy.
A hopeless drunk, Simone is picked up by his former boxing promoter who, in a sweaty, and
casually violent, although not explicit scene, reveals he has a physical interest in the
boxers who come his way. When Simone steals from this man, Rocco accepts a contract with
his own trainer to pursue the boxing career he hates in order to pay off Simone's debts.
Rocco embarks upon a boxing career and his hard work and dedication brings him success, while
Simone becomes increasingly brutish, a figure of fun cadging drinks from his former sparring
partners. He is told that Nadia is working from a car down by a sort of lagoon and he determines
to visit her and plead with her to return to him. Renato Salvatori's characterisation of Simone
is disturbing and hypnotic in this scene, as his expression suggests a little boy's smutty delight
in the dirty jokes his former friends make about Nadia, coupled with a sort of immature greed
as he imagines he might get back with her. Their paths cross again and, when Nadia emphatically
rejects him, he stabs her repeatedly. The stabbing is brutally realistic, and made all the more
harrowing by the fact that Nadia initially seems to welcome an end to her tragic life, but then
pleads at the horror and the pain as the act is visited upon her.
A family celebration at Rocco's new champion status is punctuated by two sombre moments,
Rocco expresses in a toast his sadness that the family ever left their pastoral existence
in the south, and then a bloody Simone returns to the fold. The film lurches briefly into
the melodramatic expressions of grief and heightened emotion that British comedy sketches
in the 1960s used to parody foreign cinema. Appalled at Rocco and his mother's continued
determination to make sacrifices for Simone, Ciro flees the house and, unable to catch him,
Rocco acknowledges that Simone, and the family, is doomed.
In the final scene outside the Alfa Romeo factory, Luca tells Ciro that the police have
caught Simone. The suspicion is that Ciro has given him up. While Ciro shares a scene of
touching affection with his girlfriend and his work colleagues, Luca expresses the wish
to return to the south with his brother Rocco. As Ciro returns to work, Luca walks away,
briefly stroking his fingers across the pictures of the champion Rocco that decorate the
newspaper booth outside the factory.
The information in the short documentary about Visconti in the extras package, that
Rocco And his Brothers was partly drawn from a Thomas Mann short story titled
Joseph And His Brothers, reinforces the religious overtones of the final image
described above. Ciro at one point describes Rocco as a saint. It is not apparent where
Visconti stands as regards Rocco's sacrifice; he records the tragic events with documentary
fastidiousness. To a modern sensibility, Rocco's misguided actions condemn him to a life
of unhappiness, and lead to Nadia's destruction. Simone is doomed anyway; the thing that
Rocco thought might redeem him, his love for Nadia, is revealed to be an obsessive jealousy
and simply accelerates Simone's self-destruction. Rocco must be condemned for his part in
Nadia's eventual fate, but his actions elevate him to the status of some holy fool.
If the film explores the corrupting influence of the city, and Luca's ambition to return
to some romanticised version of the family's pastoral roots is na�ve, then some hope may
lie with Ciro, who of all the brothers seems best fitted to an urban, industrious and perhaps
Disc two contains a wealth of extra material. A couple of newsreels provide some footage
of awards ceremonies and comings and goings at airports. Some catty contemporary commentaries
provide unintentional (or perhaps intentional) humour, as it is observed that Sophia Loren's
sibling has had cosmetic surgery to make her look like her more famous sister once more.
There is a making-of documentary, the original trailer for the film, and an interview with
cinematographer Giuseppe Rotunno. There is an at times testy interview with Annie Girardot,
who forgets that she is appearing in a homage to Visconti, by concentrating on her years at
the Comedia Francais, and Jean Cocteau.
There is a further interview with the fiercely intelligent Claudia Cardinale. The interview
with Rotunno reveals something about Visconti's techniques, but the interviews with the two
stars say little about the man other than that he could be difficult and generous. Better
is the documentary about Visconti that describes his aristocratic upbringing, his work during
the fascist occupation, his enthusiasm for the work of Thomas Mann, and an interview with a
rather stiff and patrician Burt Lancaster, as well as fine clips from Visconti's other films.
It would have been nice to have something about composer Nino Rota whose work on Rocco And
His Brothers is reprised in some themes later heard in The Godfather.