The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Fists in the Pocket (1965/Italy/dir. Marco Bellochio) appeared at #28 on my original list.
What it is • Up in the villa overlooking a vast valley, as in an enchanted castle in a child's fable, a family remains frozen in time. Surrounded by old pictures and heirloom furniture, buried in conservative Catholic publications, a blind mother (Liliana Gerace) "watches" over her brood of malcontents: Augusto (Marino Mase), the normal one with a job and a girlfriend in the town below who chafes at his obligations to the rest of the family; Giulia (Paola Pitagora), a striking but immature young woman; Leone (Pier Luigi Troglio), a mentally and physically disabled young man who needs to be looked after; and finally, Alessandro (Lou Castel), the brooding, combustible rebel who slinks around the grounds like a cat, stirring trouble and cultivating his own sense of bitterness. It will ultimately be Ale who concocts a half-cocked plan to violently break this spell - but will he have the courage to follow through on his brutal convictions? When the film was released in the mid-sixties, it felt shocking even amidst its revolutionary milieu. No less a subversive than Luis Bunuel found it too provocative, condemning it as an exercise in bad taste. Much of the movie plays - to me at least - like a black comedy, yet Fists in the Pocket is deadly serious at heart. And the film perfectly matches its beautiful but abrasive, unsettling style to its troubling story. This is one of the all-time great fucked-up family portraits, and deserves to be more widely known.
Why I like it •
Wow, there's so many aspects to tackle here. First of all, I'd be remiss not to comment on the dazzling beauty of Paola Pitagora, whom I haven't seen in any other films. She alone would be enough to draw me into repeat viewings. Her devilish (but only, compared to her brother, playfully so) demeanor is charming, but Castel is of course also fantastic: a nervy, unhinged, cocky yet insecure character who holds the screen whenever he inhabits it. I love the look of the movie, both its electric style - Fists in the Pocket contains some of the most striking shots, cuts, and camera movements I've ever seen, a destabilizing form that just barely clings to the edges of a classical discipline (more on that in a moment) - and its evocative locale - a wintry (though it gives me an autumnal, almost Halloween feel) northern Italian town that seems like its own universe, a demented fairy-tale world that exists without relation to the wider one. Then there's the themes and characters, the suffocatingly cozy, claustrophobic, deeply dysfunctional yet riveting family dynamic that characterizes many of my favorite films. And of course there's the zeitgeist. Despite being so self-enclosed, this is very much a sixties film, capturing a particular pivot point between the pent-up, largely potential energy of the early part of the decade and the aggressive, destructive, world-inventing action of the decade's later years. One of my favorite quotes of all time is in reference to this movie - Jean-Pierre Gorin listed it among his favorite films in the Criterion Collection and wrote, "every scene of Fists in the Pocket, with the convulsive beauty of its framing and composition, amply proves how much this period was made by people so steeped in classical culture that they fantasized it could be solid beyond its fragility, shaking it to the core and ultimately ushering in a world they could themselves hardly live in." Well, if that doesn't sum up a certain romantic yet realistic sensibility, at the core of most art I appreciate, I don't know what does. But the ambiguity doesn't stop there: Alessandro's destructive spree may initially paint him as a liberating anarchist but he ultimately reveals himself as a bullying fascist.
More from me • That particular dynamic is at the heart of my first narrated video essay, My Brother's Reaper, which explores the fraught, complex relationship between Ale and Augusto, his big brother who in may ways spurs the film's violent activity (the cross-post contains additional pictures and the YouTube version of this video, split in two parts). I have probably covered Fists in the Pocket more often than any other films on this blog with the exception of Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, and maybe Daisies and The End of Evangelion. This includes a full review (as part of my Sunday Matinee sixties new wave series), a screen-cap visual tribute to the film and another tribute specifically to Pitagora, and a record of my first reaction to the film from 2006. A clip appears at 3:21 in "That Total Film", a chapter in my video clip series "32 Days of Movies".
How you can see it • Fists in the Pocket streams on Hulu and is available on Criterion Collection DVD from Netflix.
What do you think? • Do you find the film funny at all, and if so does its humor disappear at a certain point? Do you concur with Bunuel's opinion about the film being distasteful, and do you think it handles this distastefulness in a moral or a/immoral fashion? Have you seen any of Bellochio's other films and if so, how would you relate them to this one?
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Yesterday: Goodfellas (#29)
Tomorrow: The Searchers (#27)