Friday, July 17, 2009

Rocco and His Brothers

Luchino Visconti, 1964, Italy, bw (8.2*)
This epic length Italian film seems to have had a major influence on a whole wave of American films, notably Coppola's Godfather films, and especially Scorsese's Raging Bull. It's a complex, three hour film with many stories, my favorite so far by master director Luchino Visconti.

The film is in five sections, one for Rocco and one for each of his four brothers, yet the story is woven throughout each without gaps. The entire family, along with a domineering mama (Katina Paxinou), a fretful widow, move from southern Italy to Milano in the north for one son's marriage, and apparantly that's worse than north vs. south in the U.S.; they face immediate prejudice and scorn from all the locals. After only finding work at first by shoveling snow, we follow two brothers into small-time boxing, Simone (Renato Salvatore) and Rocco (Alain Delon, in his best dramatic performance). These boxing scenes are very prescient of Raging Bull, the actors do their own boxing in a gritty, realistic, documentary style; Scorsese filmed it the same way, albeit more dynamically.

We see these characters change: some grow, some degenerate, but all feel real. This is the #3 film for 1964 in our top ranked survey, and #237 overall. For me personally, it's one of the classic representative films of Italian post-war cinema, and one gets the feeling that several U.S. directors have already paid homage to this within their own art.

Other Italian bw classics: Umberto D and The Bicycle Thief (De Sica), L'avventura / L'eclisse / La Notte (Antonioni's bw trilogy with wife Monica Vitti), The Gospel According to St. Matthew (Pasolini). I've yet to see the Rossellini films, as most are not available on dvd. (they certainly didn't come to central Georgia when I was a kid either!) Woody Allen apparently paid his own tribute in his title: Hannah and Her Sisters, also a great film, a complex weaving of the stories of several families into a giant unified quilt of a family story.

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These are the individual film reviews of what I'm considering the best 1000 dvds available, whether they are films, miniseries, or live concerts. Rather than rush out all 1000 at once, I'm doing them over time to allow inclusion of new releases - in fact, 2008 has the most of any year so far, 30 titles in all; that was a very good year for films, one of the best ever.



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