Blu-ray review: Rocco and his Brothers

Starring: Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Annie Girardot
Director: Luchino Visconti

rocco-and-his-brothers 1Coming at a midpoint between the social realism of Visconti’s early work and the operatic flavour of his later films, Rocco and his Brothers concerns a widowed mother and her family who move from the impoverished rural south to Milan in the wealthy and industrialized north of Italy. Her five strapping sons apply themselves in various ways, including taking their chances in the boxing ring, but there are complications. His plans to get married thrown into confusion by the need to take care of his throng of relations, the eldest son finds himself on the wrong end of a family feud. And on top of that there are various jealousies and romantic entanglements, plus further problems as one of the brothers slides into a life of crime.

Eventually it all dials up into full-blown melodrama, but not before the film has offered a powerful, concrete depiction of the divided state of Italy at the time. Detailing the plight of migrants, it offers a poignant worm’s eye view of the city, which matches documentary precision with lyrical, evocative black and white cinematography. Throughout, Visconti shows an energy level and firmness in handling the big ensemble set-pieces that you don’t always get in his more languorous later work. For the first reel or so, the film’s young stars, Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale, are buried in complex deep focus set-ups, so that their beauty becomes touchingly fugitive, faces glimpsed in a crowd. The result, particularly for Delon, is an aching sense of vulnerability that stays with you long after the machinery of the plot has closed around the characters.

With migration such a hot topic again, Rocco and his Brothers continues to be relevant, and it arguably has much more meat on its bones than the stately epics of the director’s later years. 8/10

TRANSFER
This 4K restoration has a slightly busy grain in some of the night-time scenes, but overall is very attractive, with plenty of detail and wet-looking inky blacks doing full justice to Visconti’s layered mise-en-scene. Vicenzo’s engagement ceremony is a riot of ribbons and dense floral wallpaper, and the high-key boxing sequences are all starkly impressive. 10/10

EXTRAS
This Blur-ray release is enhanced with an excellent selection of special features.~ 1 rocco-and-his-brothers 2hour documentary about Visconti, exploring his career in film and theatre and offering a very interesting picture of Italian cinema in the early ’40s when the director started. ~ Short but informative 20-min documentary going through the film’s shooting schedule on location in Milan. ~ 26-min interview with Guiseppe Rotunno, who talks about his career and along the way offers some fascinating insights into Italian cinema. ~ 30 min interview with Annie Girardot in which the actress describes working for Visconti on stage and screen, covering a lot of ground very briskly. ~ 23-min interview with Claudia Cardinale – the actress’ many fans with be pleased to have this piece in which she reviews her career, starting with winning a beauty pageant in her home country of Tunisia. 10/10

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