ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS
The real-life Count of Lonate Pozzolo, Luchino Visconti was the son of a blue-blooded father and a mother who was the heiress to a pharmaceuticals fortune. He spent much of his early life training and breeding racehorses before working with Jean Renoir after the pair were introduced by their mutual friend, Coco Chanel. Such an impossibly glamorous upbringing didn’t affect Visconti’s politics, however: he was a committed communist from 1945 onwards, despite living in great luxury in a palace on the island of Ischia, surrounded by his collection of Picassos and Klimts, and fitting in film work between engagements as an opera director.
This apparent contradiction informs 1960′s Rocco e i suoi fratelli, now released in a new edition by Eureka Video. The film charts the lives of an ordinary peasant family from Southern Italy as they move to Milan, and this concentration on normal working-class Italians made it central to that country’s neorealist movement. Yet Rocco is also operatic in scale (it’s almost three hours long) and emotion: as well as a rape and a murder, men slap each other in the face, the family’s matriarch wails hysterically and the titular brothers continually beat their chests with anguish – all before the film draws to a climax in which every member of the family bursts into tears and jumps on top of each other.
As you might guess, these two sides of Visconti’s personality don’t always fuse totally successfully, but there’s still plenty here to love. Once you’ve got over the idea of the impressively cheekboned Alain Delon as a prizewinning boxer, the fight sequences are handled beautifully – clearly an influence on Martin Scorcese’s Raging Bull – while the Milanese world of tenement buildings, low-life crooks and proto-mod suits has echoes in Francis Ford Coppola’s gangster films. Indeed, the young Coppola was such a fan of Rocco that he later hired the film’s musical director, Nino Rota, to provide the score for The Godfather. Ultimately, though, it’s to Visconti’s credit that his excursion from his palace to the shabbier side of town never seems voyeuristic – despite the occasional moments of high camp, Rocco and His Brothers remains gripping, extravagant viewing.