Rocco and His Brothers chronicles the life of the Parondi family from the perspective of the five brothers as they seek a better life in the industrial city of Milan: Vincenzo (Spiros Focas), Simone (Renato Salvatoi), Rocco (Alain Delon), Ciro (Max Cartier), and Luca (Rocco Vidolazzi). Rosaria Parondi (Katina Paxinou), a proud, possessive widow, has decided to uproot her family from the rural village of Lucania in Southern Italy to spare her children from the fruitless toil of the family farm that consumed her husband’s life. The eldest son, Vincenzo, has been sent ahead in order to arrange housing and employment for the older children, but he has been distracted from his familial obligations by his developing relationship with the beautiful Ginetta (Claudia Cardinale), whose family has hospitably provided him with food and lodging. The Parondi family unexpectedly arrives at Vincenzo and Ginetta’s engagement party, and Rosaria quickly antagonizes Ginetta’s family by presumptuously invoking Vincenzo’ s duties to the Parondi family over Ginetta’s happiness. Driven away from Ginetta’s family home, a friend advises Vincenzo to follow in the footsteps of other Southern migrants: to rent a room for the family until the money runs out, and allow themselves to be evicted in order to qualify for council housing. Unable to find proper employment, the older brothers accept odd jobs to make ends meet. Simone is recruited by a renowned boxing trainer who believes that he demonstrates potential as a prize fighter, and finds early success in the boxing ring. However, his focus is tested when he meets wanton, emotionally unavailable woman named Nadia (Annie Girardot), and becomes obsessed with her. Rocco finds work in a laundromat, where his shyness and gentle demeanor has endeared him to the proprietress. However, his employment is jeopardized when Simone exploits Rocco’s trustworthiness in order to steal from the proprietress and impress Nadia. Ciro resumes his studies in order to become an auto mechanic, and has isolated himself from the affairs of his brothers. Despite the Parondi family’s adjustment to their new life in the city, Rocco continues to hold out hope of someday returning to their beloved village. However, as Simone’s decadent and self-destructive lifestyle continues to erode the family’s happiness and unity, Rocco’s idealistic dream proves to be increasingly distant.
Luchino Visconti provides a visually adept, insightful, and harshly realistic social commentary in Rocco and His Brothers. Using perspective shifts among members of the Parondi family, Visconti symbolizes the passing of the elusive, unattainable dream: Rosaria’s wish for a reunited family; Vincenzo’s struggle to distance himself from his manipulative mother; Simone’s continued attempts to reconcile with the inaccessible Nadia; Rocco’s dreams of returning to Lucania; Ciro’s desire to assimilate with the modern, industrialized culture of Milan. Inevitably, the personal pursuit of dreams proves to be the unraveling of the family’s unity, as individual needs conflict with familial responsibility. As the saintly Rocco misguidedly sacrifices his own happiness to save the undisciplined Simone, he finds himself sinking further into moral complicity and unredeemable guilt. The final scene shows young Luca visiting Ciro at the assembly plant. It is a realization of his own hopes apart from his mother’s wishes – a resigned acceptance that the Parondi dream and bond of family are forever lost.
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