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    Rocco and His Brothers (1960): Movie Review

    "A touching story of selfless love, filled with vivid emotions and stunning images."

    A peasant family brutalized by the scourges of modern life is the subject of Luchino Visconti’s 1960 epic masterpiece Rocco and His Brothers (Italian: Rocco e i suoi fratelli). Shot in black and white, the movie is told in chapters, one for each of the five brothers. Yet, all periods are interconnected and detail how the family, particularly for Rocco and Simone, grapple the challenges of time, love and life.

    The movie opens with the Parondi family arriving in Milan one cold winter. The matriarch Rosaria (Katrina Paxinou) and his sons Simone (Renato Salvatori), Rocco (Alain Delon), Ciro (Max Cartier) and Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi) visit the home of Vincenzo (Spiros Focas), the oldest of the siblings who has already established himself in the city. Incidentally, it is also Vincenzo’s engagement party to Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale) and the two women develop an instant dislike to each other. Hence, Rosaria and her remaining sons move into a dreary basement flat and then later to a public housing. 

    Their seemingly idyllic life is soon disturbed by their new neighbor Nadia (Annie Girardot), a youthful, cheery and frank prostitute. Simone is captivated with her and through her influence, he pursues a boxing career. With his raw strength, Simone succeeds and gradually gathers fame and wealth. However, he becomes proud and arrogant. Falling deeper into alcoholism and neglect of his trainings, he loses both his career and Nadia. 

    Meanwhile, Rocco leaves the family to join the navy in Turin. By twist of fate, he meets Nadia and Rocco’s innocence and gentle heart urges her to abandon her old lifestyle and enter a relationship with him. However, Simone finds out about this and gathering his gang of thugs, he attacks Rocco and rapes Nadia in front of him. What follow after are measures of one man’s plunge into greed and anguish and another man’s selfless sacrifice for the people he loves. One man’s fall into desperation is one man’s rise to heroism, yet first and foremost, brothers. 

    Rocco and His Brothers depicts a beautiful unravelling of a family saga, thanks to the tasteful and masterful direction of Luchino Visconti. He skilfully blends realism with strong emotions, giving us an operatic-like experience. Set in 1960s Milan, the film portrays the life of the working-class and their struggles, even for just a decent shelter. That early sequence where the family rejoices because of the snow (meaning there is job for shovelling) is affecting. The busy streets of the city, the housing projects, and the romantic olden buildings are breathtaking and remarkable, sparking historical interest to anyone watching the film.

    The film initially has a loose plot that eventually tightens to a straining and powerful melodrama. It is draggy at the beginning as backdrop and premises are set up. As conflicts after conflicts are built up, there is a crescendo of excitable emotions, leading to an overwhelming fusion of sadness and liberation. For a span of almost three hours, too much drama has happened, leaving you emotionally drowned. The rape of Nadia is perhaps the strongest sequence in the film. It is nightmarish as Rocco, defeated with helplessness, can only watch similarly powerless Nadia being physically devastated by Simone. The emotions involved are raw and haunting, leaving you weak in the knees after.

    Of course, the movie is made alive by the steering performances of the actors, particularly Delon, Salvatori and Girardot. They are undeniably great-looking actors, made even greater by their infectious talents. With that pretty and kind face, Delon is a perfect fit for the sweet and loyal Rocco. He exudes a wide range of emotions as a self-sacrificing son, loving brother and prized fighter. At first glance, you will know that Salvatori is trouble. He effortlessly brings the selfish and stricken Simone to life. Among them all, Girardot is the big winner. She has good angles, striking for her role as a prostitute. But it is not only her beauty that's enticing but her talents as well as she conveys crude emotions in a mesmerizing manner. She is both commanding and demanding, and each scene she appears is a must-see. 

    Rocco and His Brothers is pregnant with historical imageries and rich emotions. Full of pathos, the story has such powerful complexity and intensity that stays with you for a long time. Truly, it is a timeless classic.


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