Saturday 21 October 2023

Three Brothers (Tre Fratelli) (1981)


Tre Brødre

“Three Brothers” (“Tre fratelli”) is the second movie on the List by Italian director Francesco Rosi. Critiques may, with some right, claim that this is a boring movie with not much happening, but I found it engrossing and blissful to watch.

In a southern Italian village, an old man, Donato (Charles Vanel), has lost his wife. He telegrams his three sons to come for the wake and the funeral. The oldest of the three, Raffaelle (Phillipe Noiret), is a judge in Rome and involved in cases against terrorists, much to the chagrin of his wife. The second son, Rocco (Vittorio Mezzogiorno), is a social worker and runs a ward for troubled children in Naples. He never married, but has devoted his entire life to other people’s children. The youngest is Nicola (Michele Placido), a worker’s right activist in Turin, involved in strikes and disobedience in factories. He is separated from his wife (she was unfaithful) and arrives with his daughter, a child of 8-10 years.

The three brothers live each in their own reality, which in turn represents different versions of Italy: The sensible, the progressive and the humanitarian. This would and probably should be a basis for intense conflict, but Rosi takes a different view and tries to bring them together instead. All three have lost touch with the world they come from, the south Italian village, and returning to that place show them just how far they have moved and what they have lost. None of them feels at home anymore and they all feel deeply the loss. There is more at stake here for them than the loss of a parent.

A central scene in the movie is a bedroom where each brother lies on a bed dreaming. The dream of Raffaelle is of being assassinated and how it devastates his wife. Rocco dreams of becoming a hero of the children, wiping away all the threats to their existence (literally) and Nicola dreams of going back to his wife to be reconciled. His dream also formulates the alienation he feels with his past and the rootlessness that is the result for all emigrants.

I am still not entirely certain what is the conclusion of the movie and what Rosi’s message is. This has a lot to do with him not going the obvious way to create conflict, but to merely show how far away these people are from each other and yet be united in something that may be bigger. They do argue, it would not be an Italian movie if they did not, but it seems more like they are trying to explain themselves to people who have difficulty understanding their position. Especially Raffaelle comes through strongly, trying to explain that the judiciary system is by no means perfect, but a hopeful means to improve things and that the alternative is an abyss of anarchy. This is an interesting position given that Rosi has a reputation of left leaning activistic movies.

A lot of the juxtaposition is between Raffaelle and Nicola and that leaves Rocco as the third wheel. It is a bit difficult to see where he comes in, in a conflict which is bipolar and as a character he is far less developed than the other two. My guess is that in the conflict between the established and the progressive, humanity should not be forgotten. Maybe the church position?

The lasting impression however is one of beauty and peace. The cinematography is stunning and the pictures are crisp and soothing. It is a movie that gets me down in gear and leaves me content, even if I am not entirely certain what it is I have been watching. If you are looking for the Hollywood story arc, you look in vain This is not a movie to be experienced as a crisis and a resolution, but is rather an image of a microcosmos of Italy, sad, beautiful but also hopeful as the picture of old Donato and his young granddaughter left behind on the farm at the funeral.

I liked “Three Brothers” a lot more than I expected to and recommend it to anybody with the patience for this sort of movies.

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