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FISTS IN THE POCKET (I Pugni in Tasca)(director/writer: Marco Bellocchio; cinematographer: Alberto Marrama; editor: Aurelio Mangiarotti; music: Ennio Morricone; cast: Lou Castel (Alessandro), Paola Pitagora (Giulia), Marino Masé (Augusto), Liliana Gerace (Mother), Jeannie McNeill (Lucia), Gianni Schicchi (Tonino), Mauro Martini (The boy), Stefania Troglio (Chambermaid), Pier Luigi Troglio (Leone), Irene Agnelli (Bruna), Alfredo Filippazzi (Doctor); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ezio Passadore; Criterion; 1965-Italy-in Italian with English subtitles)
“It somehow manages not to be a shocker, a clinical study or like an American TV soap opera despite its story line dipping into all those areas.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Marco Bellocchio’s feature film debut at the age of 26 is a stylish black-and-white corrosively bleak family drama in the tradition of Italian neo-realism. The film’s major point is to show that inaction can often lead to serious consequences if abnormal behavior is not corrected by those who should know better. The moody piece is striking, completely absorbing, filled with caustic humor and is well-acted. It somehow manages not to be a shocker, a clinical study or like an American TV soap opera despite its story line dipping into all those areas.

It’s about a materially comfortable but struggling provincial Italian family living in the country in a big house. The mother (Liliana Gerace) is blind, two teenage brothers–Alessandro (Lou Castel) and the youngest Leone (Pier Luigi Troglio)–are epileptic, the twentysomething sister Giulia (Paola Pitagora) is self-absorbed, not too swift and still acts childish, and the eldest is the sober-minded non-afflicted aloof member named Augusto (Marino Masé). He runs the dysfunctional family but feels it’s a burden, as he wishes to marry Lucia (Jeannie MacNeil) and live in town but can’t afford to.

The malcontent Alessandro seethes with unpredictable rage caused by feelings of inadequacy, sexual frustration, his physical handicap and lack of ambition (he’s unemployed). He decides to murder the rest of the family of misfits so that Augusto can inherit the family fortune and be free to live his own life. After writing a suicide note addressed to Augusto, he decides not to drive the car over a cliff while driving the family to the cemetery; he later tosses mom into a ravine and then drowns in the bathtub the helpless halfwit Leone.

In its economical script Bellocchio depicts a scary middle-class family caught in inertia, where there’s clearly an absence of wholesome togetherness, moral fiber and mental health. The asocial Alessandro flirts with tendencies towards violence, suicide, an incestuous relationship with his sister, and a bullying relationship with the weakling Leone. Giulia is frightened that the authority figure Augusto is about to marry and leave, and does untoward things to try and keep him from leaving. Augusto seems blind to the threats from Alessandro, and the family’s unrestrained everyday lives go unchecked until it’s too late.

Castel’s frenzied hateful performance is spellbinding. He creates the film’s manic energy as he goes from a wallflower to a raging loony, and is the catalyst for uncovering what the family keeps hidden. This complex melodrama is simply told but more difficult to comprehend in all its sociopolitical consequences and challenges to family values and Catholic traditions.

Ennio Morricone’s score catches the flavor of the black comedy, while cinematographerAlberto Marrama does a superb job making the images in the villa come to life with a sometimes animal-like ferocity.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”