Rocco and his Brothers (1960)

“There’s no hope now.”

‘Rocco and his Brothers’, directed by Luchino Visconti in 1960, is an epic Italian drama that focuses on a family who move from the rural south of the country to the industrial north. Alain Delon plays Rocco Parondi, one of five brothers who, with their mother, struggle to make money and find a place in Milan. Rocco’s older brother Simone is a boxer who develops a drinking problem and becomes a violent thug. A prostitute called Nadia, played by Annie Girardot, attaches herself to the family and creates a love triangle between herself, Rocco and Simone, that leads to tragedy. Like his later film, ‘Il Gattopardo’, ‘Rocco and his Brothers’ is a film that draws a line between historical events and places and the intimate relations between families and lovers. In this way, Visconti is able to create social documents that are both dramatic and engaging, but also culturally important. ‘Rocco and his Brothers’ is a film about the pressures of hyper-masculinity in Italian families, about the draw towards crime created by social and economic troubles, and about the specific (and melodramatic) decay of a particular family. Rocco is the central character, both in terms of plot, but also in terms of morality. His goodness: his desire to keep his family together and to work with and not against society, is in many ways the catalyst for the tragedies that befall the characters around him. The film is neo-realist in appearance, but Visconti extends this to include the moral ambiguity of the characters and events. It’s tempting to see this film as a prototype for Sylvester Stallone’s ‘Rocky’ movies, but this isn’t America, and there isn’t always a happy ending – think instead of ‘The Godfather’.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s a great snap-shot of a part of Italy that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s tempting to suggest ‘Il Gattopardo’ as a double-bill, but I’d go for Vittorio De Sica’s 1948 film ‘The Bicycle Thief’ instead, a movie with a similar feel and a similarly downbeat ending.

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