One of Italy’s most celebrated auteurs, Francesco Rosi was a force to be reckoned with in the 1960s and 1970s. Taking home the Golden Bear in 1962 (Salvatore Giuliano), the Golden Lion in 1963 (Hands Over the City), and the Palme d’Or in 1972 (The Mattei Affair), his awards glory supersedes fellow countrymen whose reputations and filmographies have been recuperated and revered internationally, such as Fellini or Pasolini.
By the 1980s, his output slowed, but this was his last prolific decade (although he made two additional features in the 1990s), tackling a famed film version of the opera Carmen (1984) and the Rupert Everett headlined co-production Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1987) from the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. But Rosi began the decade with a lauded adaptation (courtesy of Tonino Guerra) of Russian author Andrey Platonov’s novel Three Brothers, which explores three siblings reunited following the death of their mother. Each facing their own personal dilemmas, with agendas sometimes at odds, the brothers attempt to honor their mother’s memory. Rosi’s film premiered out of competition at the 1981 Cannes Film Festival and received an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
When a matriarch dies on her farmhouse in southern Italy, her husband Donato (Charles Vanel) summons his three sons home to mourn her death. Raffaele (Philippe Noiret), a prominent judge in Rome, must leave behind a high profile case which has resulted in threats to the well-being of himself and his family. The religious Rocco (Vittorio Mezzorgiono) works at a correctional institute for boys in Naples, and dreams of helping Italy’s troubled youth. And lastly, Nicola (Michele Placido), challenges his employers as a Turin factory worker who is currently estranged from his wife. The disparate siblings attempt to come together as they prepare their mother for burial.
Three Brothers is in keeping with Rosi’s previous works in its attempt to provide discourse on Italy’s social landscape, reflected here in the professional aspirations of the brothers. Noiret’s Raffaele is a judge in Rome, currently being threatened due to a high profile case involving terrorist factions, his wife (Andrea Ferreol of Ferrari’s La Grande Bouffe) begging him to abandon his latest case.
Raffaele is at odds with the convictions of younger brother Nicola, a Turin factory worker, a man seen as an agitator who stands up for worker’s rights by inciting strikes and marches. Raffaele believes this behavior is a gateway for the anarchists he’s battling, but both of them have significant relationship issues due to their professional woes. Vittorio Mezzogiorno’s Rocco (the actor also plays his own father in flashbacks) is a teacher in Naples working with troubled youths, trying valiantly to secure them a future by steering them through adolescent pitfalls. Nicola and Rocco are also at ideological odds because of their opposing stances on inherently flawed social systems, which leads to additional levels of estrangement.
As the brothers each fantasize about the horrible possibilities of their futures in dreamy asides, Charles Vanel’s Donato disappears into the past, remembering the tail end of WWII and his romance with his now deceased wife. These sequences serve as the emotional core of the film, and allow for several touching passages between the youthful husband and wife, including a sweet sequence wherein he recalls helping sift through the sand on a beach to locate her lost wedding ring. Rosi doesn’t seem to take a stance on championing one ideology over the other, or even romanticizing one period over another, allowing for Three Brothers to be an observational portrait of a family united in grief but mostly overwhelmed by their own particular social issue predicaments.
Arrow Academy is the first label to present Rosi’s Three Brothers in any kind of format in the U.S., brushing up the title with a new 2K restoration in a two-disc DVD and Blu-ray set. Another of the label’s delicious new international resurrections, the picture and sound quality are excellent restorations of Oscar winning DP Pasqualino De Santis compositions. Arrow also includes an archival bonus feature of Rosi.
The Guardian Interview:
Derek Malcolm interviewed Francesco Rosi at London’s National Film Theater on June 1, 1987, and the hour plus interview is included here.
A touching, if sometimes downplayed portrait of grief framed by malcontent, Three Brothers remains a resonant late period master work from Francesco Rosi.
Film Review: ★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc Review: ★★★★/☆☆☆☆☆