Sunday, January 11, 2009

ROCCO AND HIS BROTHERS (Luchino Visconti, 1960, Italy) Rocco believes that blood is indeed thicker than water or, more precisely, the corpse that haunts the water’s edge. Director Luchino Visconti dissects the Italian family and its deterioration amid the destitute and corrupt social system, a repressive regime where only the strong survive and a house divided must surely fall. He contrasts the nostalgia of the past with the drowning horrors of modernity, as Rocco’s family must leave behind the their rural existence and lose themselves in the big city. Visconti’s cinematic structure walks the line between Italian Neo-Realism and melodrama, and it’s the strong performances from Alain Delon and Annie Girardot that fuel the pathos, that reflect the grim sacrifice upon the dark mirrored lake, like polluted shadows obscured by mists of madness. The narrative is divided into five sections, one for each brother, but it’s really the story of Simone and Rocco, and their pervasive self-destructive conflict that threatens the matriarchal family. Simone is a punk, a small-time loser who makes Jake LaMotta look like a good guy, a boxer who also “coulda been a contenda” but gives into his vices and greed, living a brief life on his small talent. Though he discards Nadia like rubbish, Rocco eventually falls in love with her and they suffer a torrid affair. But Simone assaults his brother and rapes Nadia, reclaiming his property by force. As Nadia purposely poisons Simone’s life, Rocco begins his rise to fame as a world-class boxer; he hates his brother (and still loves Nadia) but makes the sacrifice in hopes of saving the family unit. Finally, Simone’s last desperate act cuts the family to pieces but Rocco forgives him, focusing his anger and impotence into the boxing ring where he remains champion. But it’s another brother who turns Simone over to the authorities, who dutifully upholds the humanist morality, and passes this secret like a soft whisper of reason to the youngest sibling. (A)

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