Thursday, March 22, 2012


A key moment in Luchino Visconti's (The Leopard) 1960 epic Rocco and His Brothers comes near the end when Rocco (Alain Delon) declares to his family that he dreams of one day returning to their land in Northern Italy.  The film tells the story of five brothers who, along with their recently widowed mother, Rosaria (Katina Paxinou), make the transition from a rural setting to the urban environs of Milan.  Although Visconti equally divides the film into a chapter per brother, the heart of the picture concerns the destructive rift that develops between Rocco and his brother Simone (Renato Salvatori), a downward spiral that Rocco (and the film itself) seems to believe has come about as a result of the move to Milan.

Rocco and Simone are torn asunder by their competition for Nadia (Annie Girardot), a prostitute who cynically hangs about Simone until he is no longer useful to her, only to be transformed by the affections of Rocco.  Just when it seems possible that Rocco and Nadia's bond could neutralize their individual sorrows, Simone's violent jealousy rears its ugly head, prompting Rocco to make one of several bitter sacrifices for his callously unappreciative brother.

Visconti's film is said to have been a strong influence on the work of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola.  Both directors have made films revolving around themes similar to those present in Rocco; the destruction of familial bonds, often featuring characters with mercurial temperaments.  Scorsese notes in his documentary on Italian cinema, My Voyage to Italy, that the outsized emotions on display in films like Visconti's were a revelation upon first viewing.

It's easy to draw comparisons between the quickly shifting character dynamics at play in Rocco and His Brothers and those present in Mean Streets or Goodfellas.  Likewise, Coppola seems to have taken note of Visconti's drama heightening use of Nino Rota's score, borrowing the composer for his Godfather trilogy; a choice perfectly suiting the analogous tragedy befalling the Corleone family.

It's worth mentioning how difficult it is to see Rocco and His Brothers as Visconti intended it.  The current U.S. dvd edition is non-anamorphic widescreen, meaning that, if you own a modern 16X9 television display, the disc will force a compromise in quality to fill the screen with the image and, even then, the film was transferred in the wrong aspect ratio.  Worse yet, it's the truncated cut of the film, missing twelve minutes of footage that were excised when the film opened in the U.S. in 1961.

Fortunately, the version playing at the NW Film Center this weekend restores Rocco and His Brothers to its original 180-minute running time.  It's a rare chance to see the film as it was meant to be seen, on a large theater screen with its full story intact.

The newly restored, original 180min. cut of Rocco and His Brothers will screen at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Fri., March 23rd & Sat., March 24th at 7pm and again on Sun., March 25th at 4pm. 

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