- Ravi Swami
"Rocco & His Brothers", Dir:Luchino Visconti, 1960
Apple TV has a handy feature that stores all your previous viewings chronologically, so in this post I'm turning the clock back to earlier in the COVID19 lockdown when I selected examples of European cinema that are considered classics for various reasons.
I'd heard of Luchino Visconti before but had never actually watched any of his films and "Rocco & His Brothers" is another example of a film having another association beyond cinema that piqued my interest.
In 2017 I visited Milan on a too-short holiday break, a city in a country I had never visited before, and decided upon in the time-honoured fashion of sticking a pin in a map blindfolded - actually, no, it simply came up as a suggestion for a long weekend break on the B.A website and the price of the flight and hotel seemed attractive to a budget-conscious traveller like myself.
The hotel I stayed in as part of the package was the grand-sounding Hotel Grand Visconti Palace in Porta Romana, about a half hour drive from the center of Milan and its attractions.
The Grand Visconti is a lovely hotel in the classic baroque European style and its name reflects the influence of the aristocratic Visconti family on the area, so this was the first connection to the film, since Luchino Visconti came from the Visconti family, although I was unaware of it at the time, not having seen the film.
Of course no visit to Milan is really complete without a trip to the Duomo, the cathedral that dominates the city central square - unfortunately due to the high volume of tourists queueing to enter the Duomo, I didn't go inside and had to be content with viewing it from outside - this is the other connection to the film that I wasn't aware of until a friend back in London mentioned that it features in a scene in "Rocco & his Brothers' where Rocco tries to stop Nadia, a prostitute, from throwing herself off the roof of the cathedral following a brutal assault by his brother.
Now, I don't really have a head for heights so the possibility of me going up onto the roof of the Duomo, which apparently is still open to visiting tourists, is distant, however, this detail was enough for me to want to check the film out.
The film follows the fortunes of the Parondi family, escaping the poverty of rural life in the South for an uncertain future in the North, settling in the suburbs of Milan during a period of Post-War reconstruction, following the death of their father and to join their older brother Vincenzo who has a job and is married.
The story focusses on the turbulent dynamic between Rocco, played by Alain Delon, and Simone, played by Renato Salvatore, the former being the youngest son and who is the stabilising influence on the family, and the latter being impetuous, wayward and with no real sense of a direction in life.
The two brothers enroll in a boxing gymnasium and Simone soon finds his feet as his brawling instincts and aggressive nature become directed towards becoming a champion boxer.
The film explores the classic triangle of two men falling for the same woman, in this case "Nadia", a prostitute, played by Annie Girardot, who plays Simone and Rocco off against each other, with tragic consequences.
Without going into more details, the film also introduced Claudia Cardinale to world audiences in a very brief but striking role as Vincenzo's wife - she would later star as "Angelica" in Visconti's lavish colour production of "Il Gatopardo" (English title: "the Leopard") giving a smouldering performance against (again) Alain Delon that secured her position as an actress before going on to star in a string of successful international films.
Girardot was therefore somewhat overshadowed despite giving a remarkable and touching performance for what was the main female lead role in the film and left me wanting to see more of her films, her misfortune being that the film was made at the point where a new breed of European actresses were appearing and entrancing world audiences, in the mold of Brigitte Bardot and Anita Ekberg etc, ie sex symbols.
Such is the power of Cardinale's role in the film that it was followed shortly afterwards by "The Leopard" in my viewing - I actually watched it twice since a glorious restored version of the film is available to view via Apple TV and it doesn't disappoint - not that "Rocco and his Brothers" disappoints in any way but I was left with the lingering feeling that Annie Girardot was slightly robbed by Cardinale's presence in the film.