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Review: Three Brothers – Three Brothers (1981)

Directed by: | 113 minutes | | Actors: , , Vittorio Mezzogiorno, Andréa Ferréol, , , Marta Zoffoli, , Simonetta Stefanelli, , , , , Girolamo Marzano, Girolamo Marzano, Gina Pontrelli, Gina Pontrelli , , , , ,

The name of the Russian writer Andrei Platonov will not immediately ring a bell with everyone. However, many of his colleagues and contemporaries – including Ernest Hemingway – held him high. Platonov’s novel ‘The Third Son’ forms the basis for the film ‘Tre fratelli’ (1981) by the Italian filmmaker Francesco Rosi. In Platonov’s Russia (Soviet Union) as well as in Rosi’s Italy, family ties play a major role and religion also leaves a firm mark on everyday life (although that is becoming less and less). Both countries suffered for some time under the yoke of a dictator (Stalin and Mussolini respectively). To give the original story an Italian twist, Rosi enlisted the help of acclaimed screenwriter Tonnino Guerra, who previously worked with Fellini and Antonioni,

In ‘Tre fratelli’ it is about three brothers who grew up in the countryside in the south of Italy, but then each went their own way. The eldest, Raffaele (Philippe Noiret), is a successful judge in Rome, for whom it is increasingly difficult to practice his profession in Italy, ravaged by terrorist movements. The idealistic Raffaele has been asked for a large, interested cause but doubts whether he should accept that offer, especially since his wife begs him not to. Rocco (Vittorio Mezzogiorno), the middle brother, is just as idealistic. In Naples he runs a re-education institution for derailed young people. He does everything he can to keep the youth on the right path and is so busy with it that he has no time to start a family. The youngest brother, Nicola (Michele Placido), has its own problems. His marriage to an emancipated Turinian has come to an end and his job in a car factory is under threat as he is one of the forerunners in the fight for better working conditions and strikes. After years, the three brothers come together for their mother’s funeral. Death brings the three brothers who have grown apart, while their left-behind father (Charles Venel) bonds with his only granddaughter (Marta Zoffoli). Rosi uses the death of mother as a reason to present – in the person of the three brothers – a pamphlet on political, social and societal themes that played an important role in Italian society in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Judges and lawyers who tried to expose certain wrongs, regularly had to pay for this with their lives (especially those who scrutinized corruption and mafia practices became targets for attacks). At the same time, the country – and in particular the city of Naples – was in the grip of juvenile delinquency and workers’ issues were at stake in the industrialized north. The way Rosi and script writer Tonnino insert these things into their screenplays is not always subtle. The dialogues here and there seem to come straight from a textbook and seem forced. What the film succeeds better in is the mutual dramatic connections and the personal developments. Family ties are essential, is underlined once again. Back where they grew up, the brothers come closer to themselves. The quiet,

‘Tre fratelli’ excels in acting. With Noiret, Placido and Mezzogiorno, Rosi has managed to get three actors who are sure to convince, but it is veteran Charles Venel who steals the show as their ancient father who is left alone and alone now that his wife is no longer there. The flashbacks (which Rosi is just as fond of as with dream scenes) in which he thinks back to unforgettable moments they shared together, are heartwarming and Venel himself is moving and engaging. The French veteran shares the most beautiful scenes from the film with his granddaughter (excellent role of eight-year-old Marta Zoffoli), with whom he builds a special bond. They seem to be the only two characters with both feet on the ground, who get happiness from little things. The four male protagonists all have a dream, but grandpa is the only one who is warm and loving. ‘Tre fratelli’ is full of symbolism and references (compare for example Marta playing in the grain with grandma on the beach letting the sand slip through her fingers). At this level, the film works much better than as a socially critical pamphlet. Tre fratelli is a strongly acted drama that takes on too much effort by criticizing Italian society in political, social and societal terms. If Francesco Rosi had confined herself to family ties, this would have been a true masterpiece that achieved great success with small scenes. Now – due to the abundance of ‘business information’, which makes the characters strive for higher idealistic goals, there is just a little too much noise on the line. Nevertheless, Rosi delivers another strong film.

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