by Barry Germansky
Just as The Leopard (1963) can be seen as Italy’s answer to Gone with the Wind (1939), Rocco and His Brothers (1960) can be seen as Italy’s answer to The Grapes of Wrath (1940). I find it amusing, in terms of temporal confusion, that Luchino Visconti channeled the two aforementioned American masterpieces in reverse chronological order when making his two aforementioned Italian masterpieces, but his Marxist, Steinbeckian ideas did not come from grapes alone. Naturally, we are all apolitical at the fundamental level, and artists like Visconti remind us of this state of cerebral affairs with their recurring elemental obsessions.
Rocco marks Visconti’s continued break from his own movement, one that “ism” salesmen call “Italian neorealism.” Visconti lets his love of opera dictate the myriad human interactions of his characters, from economic travails to sexualized familial tensions, providing us with opera inside and outside the opera house. This aesthetic is one of the most original in cinema.
Representing the film as a whole is Alain Delon’s performance as Rocco. It is a composite vision of saintly grace, Viscontian humanism, and the pornographically beautiful conflict between innocence and sexuality. Rocco is Visconti. Rocco is us. Rocco is everything.