“Three Brothers” (“Tre fratelli”)

A Family

Amos Lassen

After the death of his wife Catarina, elderly farmer Donato (Charles Vanel) sends telegrams to his three sons informing them that their mother has died. The three sons who live in different parts of Italy all have different walks of life. The oldest son, Raffaele (Philippe Noiret), is a judge in Rome and has become involved in cases against members of paramilitary groups. It’s gradually revealed that Raffaele has had threats against his life made by these groups, and has seen friends and colleagues have been gunned down by their members. Raffaele’s wife (Andrea Ferreol) and a teenaged son (Cosimo Milone) worry about his safety. The second son, Rocco (Vittorio Mezzogiorno), lives an austere life working at a corrections institute for young men in Naples where he counsels and takes care for the youths, trying to steer them away from crime and association with militant groups. The third son, Nicola (Michele Placido), works in a factory in Turin and has become involved in labor movements. Raffaele fears that Nicola’s attitudes legitimize the actions of leftist paramilitary groups. Nicola is estranged from his wife and he arrives at his father’s with his six-year-old daughter Marta (Marta Zoffoli). Marta soon develops a warm relationship with her grandfather as she explores his farm. Donato finds that Marta’s being there connects him to his deceased wife in some way.

Director Francesco Rosi uses the family as a template through which to see contemporary Italy. When the film begins, Donato is seen wandering through the fields and is interrupted by an elderly woman. They speak and she vanishes and we learn later that she was a spectral image or memory of his wife. Much later and after being seen looking through a series of files and photographs showing judges and policemen who have been slain by paramilitary groups, Raffaele experiences what we presume to be an extended dream sequence in which he witnesses the murder of a friend, a fellow judge, at the hands of a young man and woman on the streets of Rome. Shortly afterwards, Donato dreams of his honeymoon, his young bride (Simonetta Stefanelli) buries her feet in the sand, playing dreamily before realizing she has lost her wedding ring. Donato helps her look for it in the sand; the couple are framed together, Donato’s young wife’s back to a wagon and Donato’s horse on the left hand side of the frame.

It’s a strange, almost surreal image owing to the presence of the horse on the beach. Finally, Rocco experiences the film’s most strange and symbolic dream sequence in which guns littering the streets and the young men of his correctional institute try to sweep the streets clean before money begins falling from the skies. The dream sequences become increasingly abstract and symbolic as the picture moves towards it conclusion, with Rocco’s dream – the final such sequence of the film – making explicit the connections between youth, disillusionment, poverty and violence.

The narrative of the film is simple and offers an opportunity for the three brothers, who together with their father represent different values, conflict and regions of Italy, to come together at their family farm and engage in a series of dialogues that highlight their seemingly irreconcilable differences. The strongest focus is on Nicola, his spoiled marriage, and how his militancy is perceived by his two brothers and his sense of alienation from his home along with his daughter Marta’s relationship with her grandfather and her own father’s childhood home.

At the end of the film Raffaele, Nicola and Rocco are forced to admit that they are of each other even though they are different in their views of the world. On the morning of their mother’s funeral, the three brothers awaken in the farmhouse. Rocco goes to the kitchen to make coffee. He looks out of the window and sees Raffaele and Nicola in the courtyard and at the funeral, they cry heavily, each seated a strong distance from one another but united in their grief at the passing of their mother but disconnected from one another and either unable or unwilling to offer support to their brothers. Viewers are left to wonder whether the experience will bring them together. We assume that this will not happen but we definitely see a coming together of grandfather and child. This suggests a connection between Italy’s past and the present.


2K restoration from original film materials

High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray and Standard Definition DVD presentations

Original mono audio (uncompressed PCM on the Blu-ray)

Optional newly translated English subtitles

Archival interview with Francesco Rosi

Original theatrical trailer

Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin

FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Booklet featuring an essay by Professor Millicent Marcus, a 1981 interview with Rosi and a selection of contemporary reviews (first printing only)

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