Friday, July 6, 2018

Luchino Visconti's ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS: A classic masterpiece of neo-realism and family melodrama arrives on Blu-ray/DVD

TrustMovies first encountered ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS, the landmark movie from Italian master Luchino Visconti, in 1960 when he was in the midst of his college years. That year he also saw René Clément's Purple Noon for the first time and of course -- as did simultaneously half of the world's moviegoers, women and men -- fell in love with the star of both films, Alain Delon. These two movies, together with Ingmar Bergman's The Magician, which he had seen the year previously, changed his movie-going habits forever by demonstrating how much more powerful, involving, thought-provoking and entertaining international films could be when compared with so much of the drivel he had experienced via the output of the Hollywood studios.

From then and onwards, TM suspects that he has seen at least as many foreign films as domestic product. Rocco and His Brothers, making its DVD and Blu-ray debut next week in a glorious new 4K restoration via Milestone Films, also put him in touch with the work of the late Signore Visconti (shown at left), for which he is doubly grateful.

And while he must have seen this film at least ten or more times when he was much younger (and then again on videotape maybe two decades ago), he doesn't recall its ever looking any better than it does now, as Giuseppe Rotunno's magnificent black-and-white cinematography shimmers and glows, then dapples and darkens its way toward making this movie one of, if not the most beautifully filmed accomplishments of all time.

Given that the movie deals with a poor family from Italy's south that travels by train to the "big city" of Milan only to find itself living in continued near-poverty, with little of what might be called traditional beauty of sets, costumes or locations to be seen, makes Rotunno's accomplishment all that more special.

Some aficionados might bridle at my calling Rocco a melodrama. But it is. Melodrama was Visconti's forte, and this film is his best among many excellent ones, from Ossessione through Senso, Sandra and The Damned. What makes Rocco so great is that the melodrama is anchored to a tale that incorporates Visconti's major concerns: family, class and the impact of change upon tradition.

Working with a vast array of characters, in which each -- from smallest to most important -- is brought to impressive life, the protagonists, a mother (Katina Paxinou, above, left) and her five sons, come north and quickly fall into the somewhat decadent life of the city. From boxing gyms and hookers to a dry cleaning establishment, the military and a thoroughly bourgeois family into which one son will marry, family members brush up against (and sometimes embrace) everything from power and money to theft and murder.

The emotional stakes here are ultra-high, and Visconti, his writers and cast plunge in with utter abandon. (This is probably what made the movie so powerful for me as a very young man: I'd never experienced anything like it on screen.)

And while M. Delon (above), an actor of limited range and depth, will always remain for me the most beautiful man to ever grace the screen, watching the film again today only makes the marvelous work of actor Renato Salvatori (below, second from right), who plays the most wayward of the five brothers so very remarkable. An actor up-until-then known for light romantic comedy, his performance here would become the highlight of his career.

So, too, would the work of Annie Girardot (below, in the role of Nadia, the prostitute who becomes involved with two of the brothers) place this actress squarely and deservedly on the map of international stardom.

The movie is just three minutes short of three hours long, but it is never in the least slow-moving, let alone boring, thanks to Visconti's ability at pacing and at making the most of the melodrama's meat. Two scenes still hold the power to shock and scald: the rape and the murder.

And how wonderful it is to see the film once again uncut and containing the various segments (along with title cards) for each of the five brothers.

Revisiting a love from one's youth can sometimes be disappointing. I'm delighted to say that Rocco and His Brothers holds up in every way and in every detail.

From The Milestone Cinematheque, available as both DVD and Blu-ray, the film hits the street this coming Tuesday, July 10 -- for purchase and (I would hope) rental. The terrific Bonus Features include two that are definitely "don't miss": a video interview with Caterina d'Amico, daughter of one of Italy's most famous screenwriters, Suso Cecchi d'Amico, and another, earlier set of interviews by Caterina with Rocco cast and crew members, including her mother. These are so filled with fascinating, pertinent, enjoyable and funny stuff that I could watch them all over again. And probably will.

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