Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 22, 2015 4:42 pm 
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[2015 NYFF Revivals section]


Visconti's operatic epic of a southern family disintegrating in Milan arouses mixed feelings today

There are five Parondi brothers, and the film is divided into five chapters moving from eldest Vincenzo (Spiros Focás) through the lazy, badly flawed Simone (Renato Salvatori) to the saintly, self-destructively innocent Rocco (Alain Delon), to the hard working young Ciro (Max Cartier), who goes to work at the Alfa Romeo factory, to the child Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi), who gets only a brief coda. After a difficult arrival from Lucania, four of the brothers and their traditional earthy southern Italian "mamma" (the great Katina Paxinou) settle into public housing and the eldest, Vincenzo, who was already in Milan with a job and fiancee, fades from the picture: the main focus for most of the film is on the tragic conflict between Simone and Rocco which turns on their love of the prostitute, Nadia (Annie Giraudot).

Another 4K restoration from Bologna, with a couple of pieces of previously excised footage restored, this most populist, Italian, and emotional of Visconti's films is certainly worthy of a reexamination and a reassessment, which turns out to be problematic. There's no question about the scope of Visconti's vision signaled by the immersive 3-hour run-time. This was the heyday of International productions combining actors from different nations dubbed into the same language, a speciality of the Italians. Spiros Focás and Katina Paxinou were notable Greek actors; Alain Delon and Annie Giraudot, French ones. Some fine Italian thespians include Renato Salvatori and the veteran Paolo Stoppo (who plays a boxing impresario). The blending in works well, with only Giraudot never quite seeming Italian. Delon, whose skill at mime can be seen in Melville's Le Samuraï, was in his prime, and starring in an important Italian movie added to his luster; in this role he runs the whole gamut of emotions.

But the artificiality of dubbing seem more obvious today, and sometimes the lip-synching doesn't convince. Sometimes Visconti's blending of neorealism and baroque melodrama is jarring, and the whole film doesn't entirely gel. Certain scenes seem excruciatingly drawn-out, such as the long fistfight between Simone and Rocco outside the housing project, and the sordid murder by the canal. The conflict between Simone and Rocco hijacks the film. This is meant to be like a Greek tragedy, with a touch of Dostoyevsky, not to mention Vasco Pratolini and several other inspirations and sources; but that's one of the troubles -- too many sources. The narrative hardly adds up to a convincing or informative picture of the life of southern Italians who migrate north. What once was overwhelming and irresistibly moving now seems impressive, but overblown and lacking in unity.

Rocco and His Brothers/Rocco e i suoi fratelli, 180 mins., is now being released by Milestone in the US (and in Blu-ray) in a new 4K restoration on DCP by Cineteca di Bologna at L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory in association with Titanus, TF1 Droits Audiovisuels and Martin Scorsese's The Film Foundation with restoration funding provided by Gucci and The Film Foundation. It is included in the Revivals section of the 2015 New York Film Festival, and its US theatrical release begins 9-29 October at Film Forum, New York.

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