THREE BROTHERS (Francesco Rosi, 1980)

The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Films from Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

The three Giuranna sons have gathered for their mother’s funeral in a Puglia village, in Francesco Rosi’s Three Brothers. Nicola, the youngest, works in a factory in Turin and is an activist for workers’ rights. He and his wife are divorcing. Single, Rocco works at a boys’ reformatory in Naples. The eldest, Raffaele, happily married with a grown son, is a Roman judge whose current case involves terrorists, making him a potential target for assassination. In the country, the father, Donato, interacts with his granddaughter and reminisces about himself and his wife when they were newlyweds.
     Rosi’s film opens on the exterior wall of the institution where Rocco works: concrete and orderly windows. In terrifying closeup, rats lurk on the grounds outside; the cut to Rocco waking up suggests this is a dream. Donato’s lush rural surroundings contrast with Rocco’s milieu. What different times and lives—a point ironically underscored by the fact that Vittorio Mezzogiorno plays both Rocco and Rocco’s father as a young man. Charles Vanel is excellent as Donato.
     But father and sons are each now a stranger to the three others. Nicola remarks, “My hometown is no longer a part of me, nor I of it.” In a wonderful shot, Rocco is upstairs, in the foreground, back towards us, looking out the window, and in the courtyard below both his siblings are walking very far apart. Rocco begins to cry. During the funeral, a flock of birds flutter; we see their shadows on an outside wall. Each of the sons is at loose ends in his life, although Raffaele (Philippe Noiret, in one of his greatest roles) is best at concealing this.
     About the delinquents, from poor families, whom Rocco helps, Raffaele tells him, “It would have been better had they not been born.”

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