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Rocco and His Brothers (1960)
Luchino Visconti

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THE MOVIE
'Rocco and His Brothers' (NR) By Hal Hinson Washington Post Staff Writer April 03, 1992(from: http://www.rottentomatoes.com)

"Rocco and His Brothers," Luchino Visconti's recently restored 1960 film about the struggles of a poor southern Italian family to adjust to industrialized, big-city life, may not be a masterpiece, but it is, nonetheless, a watershed film -- turgid, overwrought, yet still profoundly affecting.
Its creator is a giant in Italian cinema, but also a man of immense contradictions. Born an aristocrat, he was a Fascist sympathizer turned ardent Marxist, a womanizer turned homosexual, a peasant naturalist turned effete melodramatist. After working as an assistant with Jean Renoir, he applied the French director's detailed, humanistic approach in the making of "Ossessione" (1942) and "La Terra Trema" (1948), which inspired such filmmakers as Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini, and opened the doors for the emergence of Italian neo-realism.
"Rocco," which was banned in Milan, where it is set, and cut by Italian censors because of its violence, is important precisely because it is a reflection of the contradictions within its creator. "Rocco," which uses realistic settings as a backdrop for its story, points not to the simplicity and naturalism of Visconti's earlier films, but ahead to his later work. It marks the point in the director's career at which neo-realism meets grand opera, where the humble and the everyday is overrun by grandiloquence and spectacle.
You could say that "Rocco" designates the moment at which Visconti's aesthetic compass wavered. Or it could be seen as the film in which the Marxist posturing of his youth was set aside for interests closer to his true self; that it marks the emergence of the real Visconti. In either case, it is the tension between the real and melodramatic that makes the film so rare and powerful. And what's lamentable is that these contradictory impulses would never again exist in such balance in his work.
The film sprawls over a period of three years with separate chapters for each of the five brothers. Only two of the brothers, Simone (Renato Salvatori) and Rocco (Alain Delon), emerge strongly from the generic family group. An unprincipled opportunist, Simone becomes a boxer and a minor local celebrity after winning his first few fights. One night he meets Nadia (Annie Girardot), a prostitute, and falls in love. But Nadia doesn't return his affections. Instead, as a result of a chance meeting in the garrison town where he is stationed with the army, she falls in love with the softhearted Rocco, creating a conflict between the brothers that ends in a violent confrontation in which, in one of the most remarkable scenes in movie history, Simone beats up Rocco and rapes Nadia right before his eyes.
Rocco cannot strike back at his brother because he feels guilty for not recognizing the depth of Simone's feelings, causing him to abandon Nadia, instructing her to return to his brother. What follows is a steady, ineluctable decline for all three parties in this triangle. And, yet, while Visconti sculpts these events in overblown emotional terms, they remain grounded in the reality of characters. Each character meets a tragic end, and while there is a facile assumption about the debasing influence of modern city life behind their disintegration, their demise, nevertheless, is still moving and resonant, particularly in the case of Simone and Nadia, who embrace their fates with a doomed fatalism.
The uncut version of this far from perfect but still classic work gives us an unusual opportunity to judge not only the film in itself, but to reassess the filmmaker's career as a whole. Certainly he was influential, not only to his contemporaries but to later film artists such as Coppola and Scorsese (who is listed as the presenter of this new version). But was he a great filmmaker or merely, as some have suggested, a director who gave a high art tone to tawdry, Hollywood-style potboilers? "Rocco" suggests that he was both -- a filmmaker of lurid genius.

THE DIRECTOR:
Luchino Visconti (from: http://library.thinkquest.org/28490/data/inglese/registi/visconti.htm)


Director, he was born on November 2 nd 1906 in Milan. Of patrician and rich family (child of Giuseppe Visconti, duke of Modrone and of Carla Erba, the industrialist's daughter), he had an infancy and an uneasy childhood: many times he escaped from his house and from the college, and he had a mystical crisis too. In that time his big passion was music and he followed regular courses of cello. Later he was dealt with horses and he formed a superb racing stable. At the age of thirty years old, dissatisfied of the life he conducted, he has moved to Paris and here he came in contact with the cinema world and particularly with Jean Renoir, known through the common friend Coco Chanel. In 1936 he was Renoir's assistant Une partie de campagne (he personally drew the customs) and he deepened his cinema culture seeing several French and Russians films and discussing daily with Renoir and his assistants. After a brief stay in Hollywood, he returned in Italy and in 1939 he was again Renoir'assistant for the Tosca, that the French director began only and that has to interrupt for the burst of the war, and was finished by Karl Koch. In Rome Visconti entered in relationships with a group of cinema young critics that collaborated to the magazine " Cinema ", at that time directed by Vittorio Mussolini: in particular Giuseppe De Santis, Gianni Puccini and Mario Alicata. With them and with Antonio Pietrangeli he wrote the screen-play of Ossessione, freely drawn from the novel of James Cain The postman always rings twice, that he had read in a typed French translation that Renoir had given him. The text was approved by the fascist censorship, that previously had refused instead one screen-play of his from the story of Giovanni Verga, L'amante di Gramigna. Ossessione, that was filmed in 1942 (ed. 1943), doesn't marks the debut of Visconti in the direction only, but it constitutes the first meaningful example of a "cinema of the reality" that will be developed and enriched in the immediate postwar period with the Neorealist movement. Even being evident the formal influences of content and of definite French cinema of the Thirties (Renoir, Carné, Duvivier), the film points out the presence of a personality of exceptional author, and, above all, he discover a fresh Italy, in the landscape and in the characters, that fascism had disguised for a long time. Wanted by the fascists after September 8 th 1943 and incarcerated, Viscont takes back his activity of director after the liberation and he collaborates to the realization of the documentary Giorni di gloria (1945). Therefore, in Rome, he gives life to a theater company and he dedicates for some years to the theatrical direction only. In 1948 comes back to the cinema realizing La terra trema (ed. 1950), that had to constitute the first episode of a trilogy on Sicily. The film, inspired to Malavoglia of Giovanni Verga, faces in new and brave terms the problems of the fishermen of the island, and it constitutes, for representative vigor and thematic deepening, a clean overcoming of the Neorealist cinema. In 1951, with Bellissima, on Cesare Zavattini's subject, it seems that he feels attracted by the Neorealist forms that don't belong him, but, despite the film's limits, he succeeds in outlining a strong portrait of plebeian magisterially played by Anna Magnani. Three years later he realizes his first films in colour, Senso, of Risorgimento environment, in which besides the vigor of the narration based on a vigilant critical sense of the historical facts it glimpses a formal gratification and a decadent and Baroque taste, that will notably influence his future production. White nights (1957), drawn from Fédor Dostoevskij, is in fact a film very far from the realism of his first worksand it has in itself formal elements of content that will broadly reappear in his last films. With Rocco and his brothers (1960) the social themes returns in foreground and the story of this family of Lucania transplanted in Milan is quite the continuation of the family Valastro's story of The earth trembles; but the melodramatic taste of the show prevails on the human and social deepening of the environment and of the characters, and the film denounces the first symptoms of an artistic crisis that will find its ample confirmation in Boccaccio '70 (1961), in The leopard (1963), from the homonym novel by Giuseppe Tomasi da Lampedusa, and especially in Of a thousand delights (1965) and in The stranger (1967), colorless version of the homonym novel by Albert Camus. For his cinema activity, that has directly and indirectly influenced the formation of more than a generation of directors and that certainly constitutes one of the richest chapters of the whole history of cinema, Visconi has gotten in 1963 the Prize Feltrinelli of the Accademia nazionale dei Lincei. (From Dizionario del cinema italiano1945/1969 Author Gianni Rondolino Publisher Einaudi 1969)

 

 

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