Two Treasures from the Archives. Restoration of film is now more than ever imperative as the old reels decay. So first an Italian film from 1960 and then an English film made in 1959. The British Film Institute is appealing for donations for this expensive but essential work. https://www.bfi.org.uk/filmisfragile
Rocco and His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli) is a film by Luchino Visconti with Alain Delon as the lead, Rocco. A family of brothers move to Milan after the death of their father in the South of Italy. The mother, Rosario (Katina Paxinou), plays her part as in a Greek tragedy, but you get with it the extreme sense of love and despair, a woman at her wit’s end, battling poverty and trying to keep the family together. The boys are grown men, but still live within the family home, to start with in a basement until they fail to pay the rent, get evicted and moved by the city council to better quarters.
The move to the city spells the end of harmony, Rocco at least has a deep rooted sense of belonging to the South, the city with all its temptations will fragment the family unity and divide the brothers.
Shot in black and white, Visconti pans the camera in a leisurely sweep across the Milan townscape, there is a spectacular scene that takes place on the roof of the cathedral, and across the features of his beautiful lead actor (his newly discovered French-Corsican, Alain Delon in only his second starring role). There is definitely something deeply sensuous in the way the camera caresses Delon, often close up to his fragile and tragic face. Rocco is a romantic dreamer, but it is his determination that finally saves his family from complete ruin. His brother Simone (Renato Salvatori) is the villain of the piece, and does a lush turn is a good boy turned bad, for whose sins Rocco has to pay a heavy price.
The restored version includes several scenes that were censored from the original film. The orchestral sound track if full of themes that would come to be associated with The Godfather and many other later Italian films.
Three hours of gorgeous. Which is not to say that this is not a violent and sometimes shocking film.
Our Man in Havana is comedic light relief. Made by Carol Reed from the novel by Graham Greene and filmed in Cuba, this was a turn away from the seriousness of The Third Man, to depict bumbling Englishmen abroad. Alec Guinness stars as the hapless salesman turned spy. The city of Havana is as much a star as the actors, in black and white it could not have been made to look any more spectacular. The famous scene in the public lavatory with Noel Coward is quite priceless, but the film also captures perfectly the undertones of dark, murderous events in a Cold War setting. The levity and horror of this offering make interesting bedfellows, filmed as it was in a Cuba in which Fidel Castro had just assumed power in a coup (as successful a turnover as it is possible to imagine, looking back from today).