Fists in the Pocket (I Pugni in tasca) [DVD]
Director : Marco Bellocchio
Screenplay : Marco Bellochio
MPAA Rating : NR
Year of Release : 1965
Stars : Lou Castel (Alessandro), Paola Pitagora (Giulia), Marino Masé (Augusto), Liliana Gerace (Mother), Pierluigi Troglio (Leone), Jeannie McNeil (Lucia), Stefania Troglio (Chambermaid), Mauro Martini (The boy), Gianni Schicchi (Tonino), Alfredo Filippazzi (Doctor)
The provincial family at the center of Mario Bellochio’s morbidly comic feature debut Fists in the Pocket (I Pugni in tasca) is sick--literally sick. The various ailments the family members bear--the mother is blind, both sons have epilepsy, the youngest son is also mentally impaired--are really physical incarnations of their larger emotional and spiritual ennui.
The youthful protagonist, Alessandro, is introduced in the film jumping from a tree, literally falling into the frame from above like he was dropped from the ether. Alessandro (who is variously nicknamed Ale and Sandrino) exists largely outside the world around him; he doesn’t fit in with his family or with society, and his life is marked by constant turmoil, generally of his own making. His homicidal tendencies, which he deploys as a practical solution to his familial problems, are constantly simmering beneath his studied exterior; he is a portrait of a bomb primed to explode.
Alessandro is played by Lou Castel, who has gone on to a long and varied career as an actor, but was an unknown when Bellochio cast him in the lead. He has frequently been compared to a young Marlon Brando, particularly in his simmering, coiled anger and intense stare. However, with his tightly centered, boyish features and prematurely receding hairline, he looks like no one so much as Neil Patrick Harris, which gives him an additional edge of the uncanny. He looks simultaneous harmless and deeply threatening.
The family’s empty patriarchal position has been assumed by the oldest brother, Augusto (Marino Masé), who is the most conventionally “normal” of the family. Frustrated by the responsibilities that have been placed on him as the eldest sibling in a divided, fatherless family, he longs to marry his girlfriend, Lucia (Jeannie McNeil), and move to an apartment in the city. The other siblings include Giulia (Paola Pitagora), who appears to be in constant competition with Alessandro to see who can cause more trouble (there are more than a few suggestions that they are involved in an incestuous relationship), and Leone (Pierluigi Troglio), the youngest son who is mentally handicapped. It is of no small significance that the mother (Liliana Gerace) is blind; as an authority figure, she is literally unseeing and therefore impotent in controlling her metaphorically inbred clan of self-destructive misfits.
Along with Bernardo Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution (1964), Fists in the Pocket marked the beginning of a new era of Italian cinema, one that was infinitely more political and daring, essentially kicking dirt in the face of neorealism, which had dominated the cinema throughout the 1950s with its radical simplicity and innate humanism. Fists in the Pocket is a very much a product of the turbulent 1960s, when most Western countries were jolted with political unrest and generational divides that became unbreachable chasms. Released in 1965, a scant three years before the student uprisings of ’68, the film is literally quivering with pent-up rage, its title suggesting a fury just barely restrained.
Yet, at the same time, there is something darkly comic about the film. Fists in the Pocket takes its subject seriously, but Bellocchio gives it a slightly absurd edge that flirts dangerously with the line between comedy and misfortune. Yet, this never takes away from the film’s poignant tragedy, which is that the family members all view each other as burdens and therefore attempt to sabotage each other’s happiness (Giulia attempts to destroy Augusto’s relationship with Lucia by writing a faux love letter, Alessandro threatens to drive the entire family off a cliff). They are dysfunctional because they can’t see any good in each other, which inherently reduces each family member to an object, rather than a person. This, of course, is precisely what facilitates murder: when a person becomes a “thing,” it’s much easier to nudge that thing over a cliff or push it down in the bath water, especially if that will relieve you of your burdensome responsibilities.
|Fists in the Pocket Criterion Collection DVD|
|Audio||Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||April 25, 2006|
|The new anamorphic widescreen transfer of Fists in the Pocket, which was taken from the original camera negative and digitally restored, looks absolutely fantastic. The image is sharp, well-detailed, and extraordinarily clean. Alberto Marrama’s black-and-white cinematography looks rich and gorgeous.|
|The original monaural soundtrack, transferred at 24-bit from a 35mm fine-grain print and digitally restored, sounds excellent, as well. In fact, this is one of the best-sounding monaural soundtracks I’ve heard in quite some time. Not only does Ennio Morricone’s creepy musical score sound great, but there is literally no trace of ambient hiss or any of the other aural artifacts that usually pop up here and there on soundtracks that are 40 years old.|
|There isn’t a whole lot in the way of supplements here, but what is available is definitely worth watching. The great director Bernardo Bertolucci (Last Tango in Paris) offers an “Afterword” to the film, in which he discusses the profound impact Fists in the Pocket had on the Italian cinema. You can then check out the 33-minute A Needed Change: The Making of Fists in the Pocket, which is composed primarily of new video interviews with director Marco Bellocchio, actors Lou Castel and Paola Pitagora, and editor Silvano Agosti. Also included is an original theatrical trailer and an insert booklet with an excellent essay by film critic Deborah Young (who does a great job of placing the film within the context of Marco Bellocchio’s subsequent films) and an interview with Bellocchio from the Venice Film Festival that was originally printed in a 1967 issues of Sight & Sound.|
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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