Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Rocco and His Brothers

"Rocco and His Brothers" aka "Rocco e i suo fratelli" (Luchino Visconti, 1960) The Parondi family moves up to Northern Italy from the country and they find simultaneous success and tragedy in the city. It's the immigrant's story: they move to make a better life and the choices they make are wholly determined by their conditions. The widow Parondi (Katina Paxinou) moves her brood to Milano, where eldest son Vincenzo (Spiros Focás) is guest of honor at an engagement party for his intended, Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale). The family swoops in and North/South prejudices erupt and break up the party. The worst news for Vincenzo is, as eldest, he has to provide for them and arranges a short term rental that he plans to break the lease on, so they can be kicked out and depend on government housing. From there, the brothers must find work and make a life for themselves.

But it's tough to be a saint in the city. The film is divided into chapters for each brother, starting with
Vincenzo, then the mercurial Simone (Renato Salvatori), good-hearted Rocco (Alain Delon), practical Ciro (Max Cartier) and the innocent Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi) who looks up to them all. Simone and Rocco take the fast money way out, going into the traditional immigrant sportboxing—and its underworld of shady characters, Ciro gets an auto-workers job, while Vince ignores his mother's objections, marries Ginetta and moves out. Each brother, in turn, finds their escape from family, even Rocco whose mission seems to be to keep the family intact. The brothers are wholly unprepared for the city and their separate ways of dealing leads to internal conflict and strife, with the women in their lives often being the ones chewed up in their machinations.

It's not just the 3-hour length and terrific
Nino Rota score that suggest it, but you look at Visconti's direction of "Rocco and His Brothers" and you see the playbook Francis Ford Coppola used for "The Godfather:" the half-lit sets, the faces emerging from darkness, the "communal" shots where a lot happens in long takes of activity, the simultaneous staging of triumph and tragedy, and the bursts of violence communicated with a minute pre-echo of dread. That "Rocco" matches so many of "The Godfather's" themes—the passing of old traditions in modern times, the splintering of the family, the immigrant's plight, and the futility of good intentions—one can see how film-buff Coppola was inspired to make a silk purse out of Mario Puzo's best-selling sow's ear.

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