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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Three Brothers (1981) (Blu-ray)
Three Brothers (1981) (Blu-ray)
Arrow Video // PG // April 25, 2017 // Region A
List Price: $39.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted July 12, 2017 | E-mail the Author

A family drama that not surprisingly gives way to political tension, Francesco Rosi's Three Brothers (1981) is a fluid and thoughtful examination of cultural crises represented by multiple perspectives. Our story follows, well, three brothers: successful judge Raffaele (Philippe Noiret), reform school counseler Rocco (Vittorio Mezzogiorno), and factory worker Nicola (Michele Placido) as they return home following the death of their mother (Gina Pontrelli, and Simonetta Stefanelli in flashback). Their different paths in life, combined with Italy's turbulent political history and a generation gap of two decades between Raffaele and Nicola, add to the tension as they grieve their dead mother.

The end result is exactly as solemn as it sounds, yet Rosi---known for even more politically charged dramas like Salvatore Giuliano---layers the film with a strong sense of hope that's amplified by thoughtful and well-defined characters. Aside from the somewhat underwritten Rocco, who rarely gets a word in edgewise until snapping his brothers back to reality during the film's final stretch, their interactions are balanced quite well and of equal interest. Two more supporting characters take part in some of the film's most moving scenes: elderly father Donato (Charles Vanel, and Vittorio Mezzogiorno in flashback) anchors the family a silent but strong presence, while Nicola's charming daughter Marta (Marta Zoffoli) imbues a much-needed childlike perspective that keeps the film perfectly grounded.

Co-written by Francesco Rosi with three-time collaborator Tonino Guerra (and based on a story by frequently-banned author Andrei Platonov), Three Brothers is a leisurely-paced film that never feels boring or superfluous. We dig deeper into the lives of all involved---sometimes via flashbacks or dream sequences, which are exceptionally well done---as the story unfolds and, most importantly, watch the characters grow and develop. It shifts focus during the second act when certain political themes creep in from the characters' personal lives (almost threatening to derail the film near a breaking point), yet Three Brothers deftly gets back on course once their reason for reuniting is fully realized. The film plays out in a satisfying and thoughtful manner, and each character is painted so well that we can imagine some of them continuing their lives in modern-day Italy. That's the power of a film that puts characters and story first.

Largely forgotten since its Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 1981, Three Brothers has also been somewhat neglected on home video in America and abroad (a Facets Video DVD was apparently released in 2002, but I never got hold of it). Luckily, Arrow Films granted the film a welcome Blu-ray release in the UK last year, and those who aren't set up for region-free playback will be happy to have this Region A port from Arrow Academy: it carries over the same 2K-sourced transfer and a pair of welcome extras, along with a DVD copy for...uh, the kids?

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this new 1080p transfer of Three Brothers is sourced from a 2K transfer of original film elements (first utilized on Arrow's Region B release from 2016) and looks quite pleasing. Texture and detail are impressive at times, with evenly saturated colors that nicely represent the film's earthy, muted atmosphere. Film grain is apparent from start to finish, as there does not look to be any significant level of noise reduction applied. The only minor issue here is what might be a mild to moderate level of contrast boosting during a handful of scenes (mostly those shot indoors during the daytime), as bright exterior patches exhibit a loss of detail with noticeable blooming. Perhaps this was unavoidable due to extensive natural lighting used during the film, but it can be slightly distracting at times. Overall, though, Arrow's Blu-ray offers a fantastic presentation of this visually rich production.

DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.

Three Brothers is presented in Italian PCM 1.0, which preserves its original mono mix while faithfully reproducing the sound design. There's some modest depth at times (not during the music cues, which sound very flat), but the on-location and occasionally overdubbed dialogue sounds a bit muffled at times. Please note that most---if not all---of these problems are likely source-related, so it's hard to judge this Blu-ray too harshly. Optional English subtitles are included for translation, although the opening credits omit most of the crew (luckily, they're identified in the booklet).

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The basic but stylish interface has separate menus for chapter selections, setup, and extras (which, like Criterion's, are individually described in detail). This two disc release---one Blu-ray, one DVD---arrives in a clear, hinged keepcase with original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin. The included Booklet features a new essay by professor Millicent Marcus, a 1981 interview with Francesco Rosi, a selection of contemporary reviews, and more.

Bonus Features

Not much on paper, but what's here is very enjoyable. The main supplement is a substantial Audio Interview with director Francesco Rosi (72:17), recorded in London on June 1st, 1987 for The Guardian. It's a nicely assembled piece: questions from the moderator and live audience are often represented as on-screen text, paired with static images relating to the questions being asked. Topics of discussion include the director's other films (most notably Chronicle of a Death Foretold, released just three weeks before this interview), his personal life, politics, visual style, and much more; Rosi speaks fairly good English, but subtitles would have been appreciated. Also included is the film's Theatrical Trailer (3:19), it's likewise a bit more substantial than expected and in similar condition to the main feature itself.

Final Thoughts

Accessible and quite moving at times, the late Francesco Rosi's Three Brothers is a memorable import that's aged quite well during the last 36 years. Featuring clearly defined characters, wonderful location footage, well-timed music cues, and an extremely impressive atmosphere, it's the kind of film that sticks in your memory long after the end credits roll. Though nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar in its day, Three Brothers has faded from the public eye in America since then: aside from earning a 2002 DVD release from Facets, it's been relatively ignored on home video. Arrow Academy's Blu-ray combo pack is a welcome port of their recent Region B release, pairing a great 2K restoration with a pair of enjoyable bonus features. Firmly Recommended for fans and first-timers alike.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes, and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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