Rocco and His Brothers (1960)

Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli) 
Directed by Luschino Visconti
Written by Luschino Visconti, Suso Cecchi d’Amico et al
Titanus/Les Films Marceau
Repeat viewing/my DVD collection
One of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die


Mom loves the both of them/ You see it’s in the blood/ Both kids are good to Mom/ “Blood’s thicker than mud” – “Family Affair”, Sly and the Family Stone

Three hours of sadness and beauty are almost overwhelming in this retelling of the Cain and Abel story.

After the death of her husband, Rosaria Parandi (Katina Paxinou) leaves the rural South of Italy with four of her boys to join her eldest son in Milan.  She finds that son at a party celebrating his engagement to Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale).  None of the celebrants are happy to learn that Vincenzo now has a family of six to support, find work for, and house.

They learn of a scheme by which they can hire an apartment, stop paying rent, get evicted and become eligible for public housing.  It is then that the prostitute Nadia (Annie Giradout) comes into their lives.  She is just looking for a warm place to hide out from her father. Almost immediately, brother Simone (Renato Salvatore) falls for her and she exploits the situation.

Jobs are scarce in Milan and boxing promises a way out of poverty for the talented few. Simone is spotted at a gym and taken on by a promoter.  He wins his first fight and the prize money and acclaim immediately go to his head.  He gets in even deeper with Nadia. Unfortunately, Simone is basically lazy, hard-drinking, and  a coward in the ring.  His gentle brother Rocco (Alain Delon) is enlisted to keep an eye on him during training.

Rocco eventually is called up to military service.  More than a year passes and he runs into Nadia by chance.  She has just been released from jail.  He sees past her hard exterior and gives her hope.  When Rocco is discharged from the army, they meet again and fall in love.  Rocco has toughened up in the service and is now, by far, a better fighter than Simone.

Rocco’s relationship with Nadia drives Simone mad and threatens to destroy the entire Parandi family.

There are a couple of themes running through the film.  The first is the alienation and dislocation of a generation of migrants from rural to urban Italy and the toll this takes on traditional values.  Only the youngest of the Parandi brothers are left with any chance of truly assimilating.  The second is the Cain and Abel tragedy.  The matriarch has trained the boys well that the family is everything.  Rocco absorbs this lesson most completely and winds up sticking to Simone despite his degeneration and the truly horrifying series of crimes he commits against both the law and his family.

I was dreading the length of this film but it kept my interest all the way through.  Visconti breaks the story into episodes featuring each brother and that helps.  Although this is in the neo-realist style it also has the sweep and majesty of Visconti’s more operatic films.  I would give anything to see this in the restored version.  The acting is great.  Highly recommended.

Restoration trailer

2 thoughts on “Rocco and His Brothers (1960)

  1. How did you deal with all the screaming, especially from the mother?
    And Rocco and his sainthood? I perfectly understood why he had to be like that, it was important to Visconti’s underlying story, but I really had to grit my teeths at times.
    Nevertheless I can only agree that Visconti told a powerfull story here. For Italians this would ring very true.

    • For some reason, the screaming didn’t bother me per se. I did think more than once that if I had a mother like that, I’d have been out of the house the second I was eighteen. I don’t know that Rocco was all that saintly, really. He talked a good line but he failed to protect the woman he loved and basically betrayed her love and faith.

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