Rocco and His Brothers ★★★★½

A masterful work by Luchino Visconti, "Rocco and His Brothers" is a highly melodramatic tale of the fates of a rural family the Parondis - a mother and her five sons - from the south who move to urban Milan after the father dies. Although there are five sons (and a different section is titled after each), it primarily focuses on the two brothers Rocco (a young Alain Delon) and Simone (Renato Salvatore). Themes of regret, romanticization of the past, decadence and jealousy run throughout the film.

The contrast between Rocco and Simone is stark - Rocco is almost Christ-like in his forgiveness and self-sacrifice, whereas Simone is amoral and a brute. But the vulnerability of each character is captured, and sadly both get swallowed up by the harsh urban environment that promises so much but winds up devouring those who are less powerful. Both actors excel in their roles, but Salvatore gives a truly remarkable performance, in that we wind up seeing the lost and wounded man beneath the monstrous behavior.

Acting by the rest of the cast is top-notch, especially Annie Girardot as the prostitute who becomes involved with both brothers. I found myself very irritated by Katrina Paxinou as the overly-histrionic matriarch, but perhaps that's how the character was written. I can't say enough about the photography (Giuseppe Rotunno) - many closeups of each character showing their full complexity. Also, terrific location shots of Milan (including a wonderful scene set atop the Duomo with Delon and Girardot), and a strong neorealist feel. Finally, the music by Nino Rota is perfect.

Truly a masterpiece. I give it 4 1/2 stars rather than a 5 because of the operatic quality (which I am sure was Visconti's intent) of big intense moments and strong emotional outbursts. These scenes are throughout the film, not just near the end; after a while it was too much. But it's an impressive achievement, and I am glad I rewatched this, as it had been over 20 years since I first viewed it.

I caught this on Criterion Channel on it's last day of August before it cycled off their streaming roster. I hope it returns because this is a film every cinephile should see.