Luchino Visconti is one of the great Italian directors whose career spanned everything from arguably the first neo-realist film ("Ossessione" made in the early 1940's) to his later more elaborate works (such as his great adaptation of Lampedusa's "The Leopard" and the extraordinary 4-hour "Ludwig" about the mad, misunderstood last King of Bavaria).
Visconti made this film in order to try and address the issue of the divide between the south and the north of Italy, but also (as the title hints) as a tribute to one of his favourite authors the German novelist Thomas Mann - the aforementioned title of "Rocco and his Brothers" echoes Mann's monumental biblical novel "Joseph and his Brothers", and the story of the decline of a family has some links to Mann's most famous novel "Buddenbrooks".
The film relates the fortunes of a family (a widowed mother and her 5 sons) who move from rural southern Italy to Milan and try to establish a new life in a strange city. Although it runs for nearly three hours (many of Visconti's movies are quite lengthy, and this is not the longest), the film enthrals because of great direction and performances (especially from Alain Delon in an early role as the eponymous brother, and Annie Girardot as the prostitute Nadia who has such a devasting effect on the family). Although no longer capable of provoking the scandal that accompanied its first release, there are several enormously powerful scenes here that have lost none of their shocking impact.
This is an excellent DVD release from the always reliable Masters of Cinema series - the film looks in great shape (unlike the previously very poor DVD transfers available) and is correctly presented, there is a substantial booklet with essays and interviews with Visconti, and a supplementary disk featuring some excellent subsidiary material (including an hour long RAI documentary on the life and work of Visconti, and a wonderful interview with Annie Girardot).
I can recommend Geoffrey Nowell-Smith's book on Visconti (now available in an updated edition) as an excellent companion to this film for anyone wanting to know more about Visconti, and Masters of Cinema have released a first-rate DVD presentation of another Visconti film "Bellissima".