Wednesday, February 5, 2014

'Rocco and His Brothers' (movie review)

Rocco and His Brothers (Wikipedia)

Rocco e i suoi fratelli (English: Rocco and His Brothers) is a 1960 Italian film directed by Luchino Visconti. Set in Milan, it tells the story of an immigrant family from the South and its disintegration in the society of the industrial North. The title is a combination of Thomas Mann's Joseph and his Brothers and the name of Rocco Scotellaro, Italian poet who described the feelings of the peasants of southern Italy.

The film stars Alain Delon, Renato Salvatori, Annie Girardot, and Claudia Cardinale, in one of her early roles before she became internationally known. The film's score was composed by Nino Rota.


This movie didn’t pull any punches. The opening scene shows the family arriving at a train depot in Milan from rural Basilicata. They’re loud and rambunctious. One of the brothers says from the bus that all of the lights make it look like the daytime. This movie would have taken place somewhere between 1945 and 1960, part of the large migration from southern Italy to the northern industrial centers after World War II.

When I first read the short description of this film, the family is said to be from “the country” migrating to Milan. I was thinking maybe they were from the Valtellina or somewhere in the Lombard Alps? There are rural areas in Lombardy or the north... but of course it would be the South. The family loosely seems to live in or around a more-or-less “southern milieu” of people, but that wasn’t really clear.

Other southerners teach them how to cheat the Milanese system as they had by renting an apartment in a good district, apparently beyond their means, then to stop paying rent after two months.. at which time the city would give them free housing. As they said: “Milan don’t let anyone live in the street.” Soon after, they see snow for the first time, and they start off with odd jobs like shoveling snow.

At the start and end of this movie was played a song entitled ‘Oh my beautiful country’. Initially the message went over my head, but at the end it was clear their country was not “Italy,” but their region of origin. The song was basically about missing “home.” There were numerous references about the “old country” or “my country,” but other than that they seemed to be socially accepted into society. There’s even a reference to something like “we don’t speak our language anymore.”

The family is portrayed as loud and emotional, and the only stereotype missing was “hand gestures” which the director seemed to largely leave out. Soon one of the five brothers, Simone, meets a local woman named Nadia; who said that she was from Cremona, and this is maybe the central storyline of the movie. She is a prostitute, but she really isn’t portrayed that way. There are references to her parents house nearby, she dresses well, and there are many scenes of her just appearing like any well-dressed middle class woman on a date.

The matriarch Rosaria doesn’t like Nadia at all, and this begins a long rocky road that I can’t give all the details of or I will spoil the movie. Suffice to say, it’s a tragic relationship between Nadia and this family. They become almost negatively addicted to each other. Perhaps I’m the only one, but I had a soft spot for Nadia; like one of those people whom you wish would get their life in order, but they never do.

Although it wasn’t entirely clear--with the cast being a mixture of Italian, French, or Greek actors--the brothers seemed to have a thing for Milanese women. The mother, perhaps frustrated by these “quasi-liberated” young local women, says something like “these northern girls have skin like a chicken!” or some such thing about them being skinny and pale.

Some of the brothers get into boxing, and start construction work; and later one or two of them works for Alfa Romeo. The movie portrays them engaging in shady behavior at times, like stealing from a woman who owns a clothing and tailoring shop where one of their girlfriends works. There is no “mafia subplot” however. The Milanese are also portrayed as being excitable and gregarious, but never as loud and emotional as “the Parondi’s.”

The two main brothers are Simone and Rocco. Simone is always in trouble, while Rocco is the noble one.. and would be considered the main protagonist of the movie. He’s always trying to fix Simone’s problems. Rocco’s wife Gianetta is played by Claudia Cardinale, who later became a famous actress. Apparently "Rocco" is short for Rocchino. I found a lot of this movie a little hard to follow. One of the main characters is their local head boxing trainer, who trains several of the brothers, and always seems to end up frustrated by what he sees as a lock of dedication. He has some rant about “these southerners are not serious!” Some of the plot surrounding him sort’ve goes over my head. It’s hard to read text and try to watch. You miss some things.

There is one scene which I found very funny. The mother finally gets into it with Nadia. There’s some new negative issue with Simone and he leaves, and Rosaria bursts into the bedroom to confront Nadia while she’s in bed. A real “meeting of the minds.” At one point, Rosaria has both of her hands in the shape of horns and pushes Nadia.. as if to call her “a devil.”

I don’t want to give away the movie, but there was much sympathy for Simone near the end. One of the brothers ends up saying to his nephew, “Simone had good roots, but he got poisoned by bad herbs.” If you see, or saw, the movie; you will know why I think that’s total BS. He was a bad seed, period… but it’s just a movie….

There were a lot of socio-political issues surrounding this film, which was filmed in Milan and Lombardy, but I can’t say because it would give away the movie. Some of it you can find on the movie's IMDb trivia page here. This film has been really popular. From the link: Francis Ford Coppola was such a big fan of this film that he hired its composer, Nino Rota, to score his 1972 masterwork, The Godfather (1972). Directed by Vichino Visconti, who was of Milanese descent, the film won numerous awards at the 1960 Venice Film Festival among others.


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