With all its faults, this is one of the top achievements of the year in Italy. Plot [from Giovanni Testori’s novel Il ponte della ghisolfa, adapted by Luchino Visconti, Vasco Pratolini and Suso Cecchi D’Amico] deals with a south Italian family’s trek to the big northern city of Milan, where it intends to start a new life, and of its slow disintegration as its members go their own way. It’s plotted in the form of an epic poem, each stanza dedicated to a member of the group.
Rocco is the all-good brother who falls for the same girl, Nadia, a prostitute, as his brother Simone does. He reluctantly gives her up, but the affair ends tragically anyway, with Simone killing Nadia. Other brothers break off and live honest lives on their own while Rocco is tormented by the tragedy and wishes only to return to the land where he was born.
Scripting shows numerous hands at work, yet all is pulled together by Visconti’s dynamic and generally tasteful direction. Occassionally, as in the near-final revelation to the family of Simone’s crime, the action gets out of hand and comes close to melodrama.
Yet the impact of the main story line, aided by the sensitive, expertly guided playing of Alain Delon as Rocco, Annie Girardot as the prostie, and Renato Salvatori as Simone, is great. Katina Paxinou at times is perfect, at others she is allowed to act too theatrically and off-key.
Lensing by Guiseppe Rotunno of the northern metropolis is realistically harsh, in key with the action.