Overlong and overwrought as it undoubtedly is, Luchino Visconti’s Rocco and his Brothers (1960) still exerts a strong hold upon the viewer for most of its (nearly three-hour) running time. The film is pitched somewhere between neo-realism and grand opera, as it follows the fortunes of a poor family from Southern Italy, the Parondis. Matriarch Rosaria (Katina Paxinou) and sons Rocco (Alain Delon), Simone (Renato Salvatori), Ciro (Max Cartier) and Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi) move to Milan to make a new life for themselves in the city, where their sibling Vincenzo (Spiros Focás) has already re-located. But the brothers struggle to find work outside of the boxing-ring, while grand passions erupt when the saintly Rocco and the hot-headed Simone both form a relationship with a prostitute, Nadia (Annie Girardot).
This was a star-making picture for both Delon and Girardot and its not hard to see why. The camera dotes on Delon while Girardot gives an impressive and varied performance in a problematic role. Salvatori is also an imposing presence as Simone, and the violence that erupts between these three characters is still shocking to behold. Rocco isn’t perfect by any means - there are slack moments, a few of the characters are sketchy and remote, and some dicey dubbing doesn’t help - yet it remains a powerful and haunting work.