Throughout Rocco and His Brothers Luchino Visconti explores the notion of icons and how these are created. For the Parondi family traveling from the country to the exciting metropolis of Milan, these are mostly reflected through their family history.
Leaving behind an entire lifetime they come to a new place with the need of reminding them of where they come from.
At several moments in the film, Visconti makes sure we see how family is these people's religion (besides Catholicism of course). The "ghosts" of their people and the memories of who they were are always with them.
Eventually, as their needs and desires begin to change, the icons in the background evolve as well. Visconti gives each of these characters different symbols that identify who they are. For Rocco (Alain Delon) it becomes boxing.
In this particular shot, Visconti makes a clear affirmation of how old fashioned values gave way to more "evil ways". In this crucial moment Rocco's brother Simone (Renato Salvatori) "sells his soul" to the devil (or a devil figure) and Visconti shows us a Madonna within the TV screen.
As if absorbed by modernity, Visconti reminds us that the old fashion values can be switched off as easily as channels, the goodness of the virgin is just an idea we can entertain ourselves with during commercial breaks.
After his character in particular goes through hardships and some disturbing neo-realist twists we are given a Rocco to whom two choices are given: will he continue trying to be who he was before Milan or will he become the man the city demands of him? (Notice how the wall now contains pictures of both worlds)
This brings us to my favorite shot:
Rocco's youngest brother goes home after seeing his brother (not Rocco) off at the factory where he works. He sees Rocco's picture in a series of ads announcing his fights. This image is wonderful, not only because of its aesthetics (gotta love the cheekbones on Delon) but because it represents a trip that goes beyond taking trains and moving houses, it shows the character's arc and sends us off with a deep melancholy that will lead us to wonder if urban mobility comes with too high a price. Are values lost in the city? Do values even exist in reality for that matter? Visconti gives no easy answers and the movie haunts us because of that.
If I were a total horndog, which I am, this would be my favorite shot. It's Delon and his onscreen brother Renato Salvatori taking a shower together! Has any other movie family been as breathtakingly hot as this one?
This post is part of the bellissimo Nathaniel's Hit Me With Your Best Shot series.