All my students think I’m crazy when I say that I haven’t watched Italian tv since 2008. The absolute lack of interest for tv programmes is somehow softened by the passion for Italian cinema. I’m no expert when it comes to the classics, but I’m a dedicated and motivated learner. I started watching Luchino Visconti’s movies  last summer and I was shocked by most of them: besides the plots and the general atmospheres, what struck me was the incredibly modern use of colours, lights and shadows and the peculiar “eye” he cast on characters and places. After choosing Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa as one of my favourite movies ever and after realizing I’ve become obsessed with the costumes designed by Piero Tosi, I took a pause from Visconti’s movies. Two days ago, after a long Christmas holiday lunch, I decided to watch Rocco e i suoi fratelli. I had many expectations about it: I had read lots of reviews, so I had the general atmosphere in mind but I was looking forward to watching it anyway. I’m still trying to grasp its complexity because I’ve found many different suggestions in it: the story of a family which moves from Southern Italy to Milan is like the story of my family (my mother’s family moved to Turin just after the World War II, but they went back home after some years; later, my mother moved back to the North after taking her degree) and that’s surely a reason of interest. The rise and fall of one of the characters, Simone (played by one of my favourite Italian actors, Renato Salvatori), contrasts with the rise of the protagonist, Rocco (Simone’s brother, played by an incredibly beautiful and intense Alain Delon), and this is the core of the tragedy. They have a lot in common but are completely different, just like Cain and Abel or Judas and Jesus. Rocco is a Messianic figure, the Lamb who takes credit for his brother’s sins, who blames himself for them, who wants to save him, no matter what. Another Biblical figure is Nadia (Annie Girardot), a prostitute who falls in love with Simone first, but realizes she can really change her life thanks to Rocco’s love. She’s like Mary Magdalene, the sinner who’s released from the seven demons by Jesus. Like Rocco, she is the innocent victim of the world’s violence and she accepts her destiny like the Lamb (see the position of her arms in this scene, as if she were Jesus Christ on his cross).
Her first appearance shows she’s different from the Parondis and from the female figures we’ve met so far, especially Rosaria, Rocco’s mother (Katina Paxinou). She’s leaving her father’s house and looking somewhere to go, while wearing a floral-print dress, unbuttoned as a robe, worn on a satin basque with lace inserts. She meets Vincenzo (Spiros Focás), one of Rocco’s brothers, on the stairs and this will change her destiny and the future of the other characters, too. Later in the movie, her outfits (especially the camel trench coat with fur collar she wears during the scene shot on top of the Duomo in Milan) further emphasize the distance between her and the rest of the cast.
When it comes to the shoes she wears in her first scene, they tell a lot about her. She’s not rich, but she would like to be a wealthy lady. Those black pumps with glittering heels are the symbol of this dream and of her attitude of social climber. Later in the movie, we’ll see she’s actually wearing an armour, because her real desires are less material than expected, but the first impression we get will somehow stay attached to the character. I tried to take some screencaps, but enjoy the video above to see the tempting glittering heels of her pumps.
The screencaps don’t do them justice: the sparkle of the heels is lost, but you can still get an idea of what I’m talking about. It would be interesting to know why Tosi decided to pick these pumps for Nadia, but I’m pretty sure my guess is right. At the same time, I’d like to know where he found them. I mean: this movie was released in 1960 and at the time there were no Miuccia Prada nor Giuseppe Zanotti who made glittering heels pumps and sandals. They are a detail which tell a lot about the the costume designer and the movie director, too. Just think of how Tosi and Visconti were ahead of their time; it’s no wonder that many designers “copied” those heels many years after the release of the film
It’s impossible to think someone would make such a film today, but if so, I think the costume designer would have no doubts. Nowadays Nadia would wear a Miu Miu pair of patent sandals or pumps with glittering heels. I tried to go back in time with my memory skills and remember who made these shoes first; I’m pretty sure Miuccia Prada was the one. Who knows? Maybe she really used the Italian movie as source of inspiration.
Maybe Nadia would wear a “hardcore” version of the shoes we’ve just seen, opting for Miu Miu patent mary-janes with glittering heels AND soles. They are to die for, and they would surely mirror the social climbing attitude of the girl.
Whatever the “modern” choices for the costumes of this character, the romantic and tragic desperation she exhudes would stay intact. This can be found in many other characters in Visconti’s films (I’m thinking of Sophie Von Essenbeck in The Damned or Sandra Dawson in Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa), but Nadia has something – hope, probably – that the others don’t have. She’s not a lost soul, she’s not someone who has sinned and knows will surely be punished for her mistakes. Well, she knows that, but she also realizes a better future is possible. “Ognuno può fare la vita che gli pare, basta che è convinto. Ma non bisogna aver paura, e tu tieni sempre l’aria d’aver paura,”  Rocco tells her when they meet out of Milan.
Listen to his words in this excerpt and you’ll get the strength of his message. Unfortunately, this is a tragedy and things will take a bad turn; Nadia and Rocco are star-crossed lovers and their destiny is cruel. Despite this, I think his words have a universal quality: everybody needs hope in his/her life, which can be hard, impossible to live at times, but without hope we’re nothing.
 I watched Senso, Le notti bianche, Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa, La caduta degli dei, Gruppo di famiglia in un interno and Morte a Venezia. I still have Ossessione, Il gattopardo, La terra trema, Ludwig and Bellissima in my must-watch list.
 This means: “Everyone can lead the life he prefers, but he must be sure. There no reason to be scared, and you always look scared”.