Director: Marco Bellocchio
Screenplay by: Marco Bellocchio
Starring: Lou Castel, Paola Pitagora, Marino Masé, Liliana Gerace, Pier Luigi Troglio, Jeannie McNeil
Country: Italy
Running Time: 108 min
Year: 1965
BBFC Certificate: TBC

The inspiration for Fists in the Pocket came from writer-director Marco Bellocchio’s own experiences growing up and rebelling against provincial life as a young man. He still had pent-up anger, bitterness and resentment towards his family and wanted to vent it somehow.

From this seed, the fresh-faced Bellocchio and his producer Enzo Doria went around begging for bits of money here and there from friends, family and whoever else would listen. No commercial production companies saw any potential in the bleak and unconventional film.

Bellocchio and Doria succeeded to pull everything together eventually though and ended up with a feature film to their names. Reportedly, the director tried to get it into the Venice Film Festival but, showing a critic an unfinished cut without music or sound effects, they said it was terrible and should be thrown away, let alone not shown at the festival. They tried again at Locarno though and had more success. Ironically enough, the reception from this screening meant the film did play at Venice, where it was very successful, despite being shown in a smaller venue than the big hitters of the festival.

It was unlike anything in Italian cinema at the time, catching the attention of critics and the public, speaking, in particular, to the younger generations. Shunning any whiff of neorealism, it gave the film industry a swift kick in the backside with its aggressive, blasphemous and subversive nature.

Giving the film a fresh lick of paint and releasing it into the high-definition digital age are Criterion, who are adding Fists in the Pocket to their illustrious collection on Blu-ray. I got hold of a copy and my thoughts follow.

The film is set in a villa in the Italian provinces, which houses four young adult siblings and their mother (Liliana Gerace). The eldest, Augusto (Marino Masé), is the breadwinner but longs to marry his girlfriend Lucia (Jeannie McNeil) and move away. Unfortunately, with his mother being blind and two of his brothers, Leone (Pier Luigi Troglio) and Alessandro (Lou Castel), suffering from epilepsy, on top of Leone also seemingly dealing with learning difficulties, Augusto is tied to the home and family.

The troubled Alessandro can’t bear dealing with his mother and younger brother anymore and, despite a disturbing, possibly incestuous love for his sister Giulia (Paola Pitagora), believes that killing them and himself would remove the burden from Augusto.

Alessandro’s initial mass-murder/suicide plan is abandoned but he doesn’t give up on the idea of removing the ‘problems’ of the family and confides in Guilia as he plots his next moves.

Fists in the Pocket is a disturbing drama that could, in fact, be classed as a horror film through the murderous desires of its protagonist. There are few sympathetic characters on screen either, other than Leone and the siblings’ mother, making for uncomfortable viewing. Augusto is particularly unlikeable, displaying an open loathing of his dysfunctional family.

The film predates but seems to symbolise the student protests of 1968 in Italy and much of the rest of the Western world, when the younger generations grew tired of the capitalist, patriarchal societies holding them back and took to the streets to demand change. That bubbling anger and frustration are perfectly embodied in the film, showing just how ahead of its time it was. In this way, what seems to be a dark, twisted, intimate family drama comes across as deeply political, even though it wasn’t intended to be.

Alessandro’s motivations can seem murky though, rather than pointing in any clearly defined political direction. At some points, he wants to free his brother, at others he wants to bring order back to his family and, elsewhere, he just wants to watch the world burn. This uncertainty, when added to his primal methods of getting what he wants, makes his actions all the more chilling whilst also pointing towards a general frustrated desire for rebellion.

It’s also disturbing how little effort Alessandro puts into the film’s murders. They’re done quietly and calmly with a little nudge or a slowly executed series of deliberate actions.

Lou Castel is superb as the central character. He was a non-professional actor at the time, with only a couple of walk-on parts to his name, but became a regular fixture on screens following this. He is the key driving force of the film, with a child-like look and playfulness that is countered by a dark intensity and desperation glimmering behind his eyes. He has a feel of Brando in his prime.

The visual style of the film is rebellious and forward-thinking too. Italian cinema was known for beautifully presented images inspired by classical art but here Bellocchio is bold and unconventional with his framing and makes great use of harsh contrast in his crisp, black-and-white cinematography. It has a look of the French New Wave rather than taking anything from Italian neorealism or directors such as Visconti, Antonioni or Fellini.

Ennio Morricone provides the score, which aids the unusual and unsettling atmosphere of the film, merging choral liturgical pieces with abstract sounds.

Overall, Fists in the Pocket is a bold, uncompromising and groundbreaking film that has aged very well, possibly because it isn’t consciously political, unlike many of its peers. The student uprising that followed may have been a long time ago now but young people still and will always have the desire to rebel against authority and their elders. As such, the film is as potent as ever.

Film:

Fists in the Pocket is out on 19th June on Blu-Ray in the UK, released by The Criterion Collection. The transfer is impressive. A statement at the beginning of the film explains how some shots weren’t available in the original negative so had to be sourced elsewhere but this doesn’t show. The film looks wonderfully crisp and clean, with a well-handled tonal range. The stills used here are a mixture of my own screengrabs and images taken from the Criterion website which look to be screengrabs too. So they should all give you an idea of the picture quality, though the images have been compressed. The sound is robust too.

DIRECTOR-APPROVED BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES

– New 4K digital restoration, approved by director Marco Bellocchio, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack
– Interviews from 2005 with Bellocchio, actors Lou Castel and Paola Pitagora, editor Silvano Agosti, critic Tullio Kezich, and filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci
– New interview with scholar Stefano Albertini
– Trailer
– New English subtitle translation
– PLUS: An essay by film critic Deborah Young and (with the DVD) an interview with Bellocchio

The 2005 piece interviewing some of the key cast and crew runs around 33 minutes and is most illuminating, describing the inception, production and post-production of the film as well as discussing its reception and how it tied in with the student movement to follow. It’s a vital watch.

Bernardo Bertolucci’s archival interview is separate to this. Running around 10 minutes, the piece sees the filmmaker discussing how Fists in the Pocket affected him. He makes some interesting points, particularly in comparing Bellocchio’s style with the British New Wave rather than the French New Wave which some might link it with. I can get on board with this, as the British films tended to surround ‘angry young men’ that attacked society in low-key, intimate, bleak dramas.

The one new interview, with Stefano Albertini, is just under 11 minutes long and sees the scholar discussing Fists in the Pocket’s strengths and influences. It’s a decent coverall piece that helps you better appreciate the film.

I didn’t receive a copy of the booklet, unfortunately.

So, whilst there isn’t a great amount of supplemental material here, what is included is of great value and the film is strong enough to warrant a high recommendation.

Disc/Package:

Where to watch Fists in the Pocket
Fists in the Pocket - Criterion
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Editor of films and videos as well as of this site. On top of his passion for film, he also has a great love for music and his family.

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