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Rocco and His Brothers

Rocco and His Brothers(1961)

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By a strange coincidence, Rocco and His Brothers (1960), directed by Luchino Visconti, is receiving widespread exposure through several different venues this summer. First, it is being aired on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, June 21 at 3:30 am ET so set your video recorders now. It is also being re-released theatrically by Milestone Pictures in a completely new 35mm print (the original uncut version with a running time of 180 minutes) that will play the Film Forum theatre in New York City from July 5 -11. But for those of you who don't receive TCM or won't be able to catch the film in its New York engagement, there's also good news. Rocco and His Brothers is now available on DVD from Image Entertainment and is presented in the original Italian language version with optional English subtitles.

Arriving at the end of the neorealism movement in Italian cinema, Rocco and His Brothers was Luchino Visconti's most ambitious production to date and a personal favorite among his many films. Recounting the tale of a widow, Rosaria Parondi (Katina Paxinou), and her five sons - Rocco (Alain Delon), Simone (Renato Salvatori), Ciro (Max Cartier), Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi) and Vincenzo (Spiros Focas), Visconti paints a sprawling canvas that tells several stories. At the center is the Parondi family, poor Italians from the south who have moved north to Milan in search of a better life. As they adapt to new jobs and relationships, these simple country people are inevitably corrupted by the city.

The emotional range of Rocco and His Brothers is excessive and theatrical like a Verdi opera and often plays like a modern-day Greek tragedy, particularly in its depiction of the relationship between the good son, the saint-like Rocco, and his brutal sibling, Simone, a promising boxer whose downward spiral ends in total degradation (He is arrested for the brutal stabbing death of his prostitute lover, Nadia (Annie Girardot).

Visconti's original purpose in bringing Rocco and His Brothers to the screen was to create a drama with a historical and political focus, one that would address the problem of southern emigration to the northern Italian cities as well as the disintegration of the family and its traditional values. When the movie first premiered, it attracted considerable controversy, shocking some viewers with its scenes of brutality and violence. It also became Visconti's first commercially successful film. Nevertheless, it incurred numerous censorship problems. Milan officials refused to allow the film to be shown in the city and, when Rocco and His Brothers went into general release, several scenes were considerably shortened such as the fight between the two brothers and Nadia's rape and murder. Initially a four-hour film, it was further cut to a length of less than three hours for its American release version (There was even a 95 minute version in circulation). Despite this, Rocco and His Brothers remains Visconti's most passionate film and is generally acknowledged as a continuation of the story of the Valastros family in La Terra Trema (1948), making it the second film in an uncompleted trilogy about Visconti's poor southern neighbors.

The Image DVD of Rocco and His Brothers is a perfectly acceptable presentation of this often overlooked masterpiece from Visconti. It is showcased in the anamorphic widescreen format (1:66:1) with a Dolby digital mono track, easy-to-read subtitles and a 20-chapter menu selection. Unfortunately, the main menu navigation is rather difficult to read and there are some discrepancies over the running time. The Image DVD states a running time of 168 minutes though the print being aired on TCM and at the Film Forum in July lists a running time of 180 minutes. Also, there are minor speckles and print scratches visable at times but overall the DVD visual presentation is crisp and the black and white levels are well balanced. There are no extras on the disk but Visconti fans won't care since the image quality is preferable to any previous VHS release version.

For more information on Rocco and His Brothers, visit the distributor's web site at Image Entertainment, Inc.. To purchase a copy of Rocco and His Brothers, visit Movies Unlimited.

By Jeff Stafford