Recommended 4 Stars

Criterion has upgraded their previous 2006 DVD release of Marco Bellocchio’s Fists in the Pocket to Blu Ray.  Released in Italy in 1965 Fists in the Pocket is Bellocchio’s startling debut feature.  Bellocchio along with Bernardo Bertolucci was part of Italy’s 1960s new wave of directors breaking taboos and conventions.  Fists in the Pocket indeed must have been shocking upon its initial release and after over 50 years still retains quite a bit of that power.

Fists in the Pocket (1965)
Released: 27 May 1968
Rated: Not Rated
Runtime: 105 min
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Genre: Drama
Cast: Lou Castel, Paola Pitagora, Marino Masé, Liliana Gerace
Writer(s): Marco Bellocchio
Plot: A young man takes drastic measures to rid his dysfunctional family of its various afflictions.
IMDB rating: 7.8
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Other
Distributed By: Criterion Collection
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: Other
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr.45 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: Keep Case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 09/03/2019
MSRP: $39.95

The Production: 3.5/5

Fists in the Pocket is a young man’s movie.  More precisely, an angry young man’s movie.  Directed by twenty-five-year-old Marco Bellocchio one year out of film school, the film plays like a howl from the soul.  Most works about rebellion deal with authority; Fists in the Pocket does too, but its sense of powerlessness is much deeper.  It’s a cry against existence, like watching somebody rage against their own DNA.

Young Allessandro (Lou Castel) lives with his blind mother (Liliana Gerace) and three siblings in a decaying villa outside an unnamed northern Italian town.  The home seems to be a monument to the past with its out of date décor, clutter, and faded photos.

It’s cleverly never labeled something pat like epilepsy, but Allessandro is prone to seizures as is his younger, mentally disabled brother Leone (Pierluigi Troglio).  The sister Guilia (Paola Pitagora) also suffers from mysterious but seemingly different seizures as well as psychological problems.  The oldest brother Augusto (Marino Mase), who suffers from no obvious congenital problems is the sole breadwinner and by default of age and ‘normalcy’, the father figure of the family.

There must have been something in the air in the mid-1960s about what constitutes a normal family as this film was produced the same year that both The Munsters and The Addams Family premiered on US television.  This was also around the same time Jack Hill’s wonderful Spider Baby was produced.  The above-mentioned American shows and film are about families that are united by their grotesqueries.  These families feel legitimate love because of their differences or in the case of Spider Baby, affliction – The Munster’s fierce protection of ugly duckling Marilyn is funny because she is ‘normal’.  Fists in the Pocket is the opposite; the family in the film is being torn apart by their afflictions.

The film opens Lucia (Jeannie McNeil) sharing a very disturbing unsigned letter with her fiancé Augusto.  The letter pieced together like a kidnapper’s ransom note threatens the couple’s engagement.  Augusto knows the letter came from his troubled sister.  While this happens, we are introduced through cross-cutting to Augusto’s siblings.

The attractive Guilia stands on a road while two boys on a scooter tease her – or is it the other way around?  The ‘afflicted’ children in this family seem to have little interaction with others their own age.  Is the sexually stunted Guilia enjoying the attention?

The film’s protagonist Allesandro is introduced by falling into frame from a tree branch out of frame.  Almost like a nut or piece of fruit falling to the ground.  Leone, the most obviously unwell member family is berated by Allesandro for feeding caged rabbits (an allusion from Of Mice and Men?) and is dismissed by Allesandro as fit for only watering plants.

When Augusto stops to pick up Guilia she doesn’t deny authorship of the letter and shows Augusto love poems to her from her brother Allesandro.  This is a very unhealthy family; the dining room table being the site of most of their never-ending battles.  The meals are filled with tension in several different forms: resentment, delusion, contempt, condescension, jealousy, and misplaced sexual tension seem to be the diet of this family.

There really isn’t a plot to speak of in Fists in the Pocket.  It’s a series of episodes bringing the family closer to destruction.

Allesandro decides to get his driver’s license in order to take the family on one it’s regular excursions to the cemetery (again, the past) to drive the car over a cliff, thereby ending Augusto’s genetic imprisonment.

Allesandro pretends that this horrific plan is motivated by the desire to end Augusto’s financial responsibility and free Augusto to live a ‘normal’ married life with Lucia.  Allesandro professes to do this for Augusto’s benefit, yet harbors deep resentment over Augusto’s dominance over him.  Allesandro wants to invest in a chinchilla farm, but Augusto rejects this offer as being too costly and uses family health costs as the reason.  By alleviating Augusto (and the family) of its financial burdens Augusto can get married and move to town, and though unstated, Allesandro will be free to pursue his wishes.

Augusto is not an innocent, suffering saint – he longs to be rid of his burden.  He too resents his role in the family.  A role thrust upon the young man by antiquated customs.  After reading Allesandro’s letter explaining his plan, he does nothing to try and stop it.  He passively accepts the suicide/murder plan as a victim – as an act of fate, or as he has accepted his role in the family.

Allesandro being the lead, is the most defined character.  Lou Castel is eccentric and dominates the film.  Allesandro is a mass of contradictions.  He revels in his affliction and inability to act yet longs for power.  While he claims that he wants to help his brother he, in fact, covets all his brother has – at one point inappropriately kissing Lucia.  When he goes to a prostitute, he chooses Augusto’s regular prostitute, even going as far as asking how his performance compares to his brother’s.

Allesandro is sensitive and intelligent yet incapable of connecting with others.  When Augusto takes him out for a night of dancing and socializing, he willfully stays to himself (is this to prove his superiority?).

Bellocchio is unsentimental and takes no prisoners; religion, society, and the family itself are targets.  Bellocchio is talented and intelligent.  Fists in the Pocket is well directed, acted, shot and edited.  One would never guess that it was made by a recent film school graduate.  Without giving away too much, the murder sequences are as well done as any thriller and are heightened by Ennio Morricone’s evocative score that goes from throbbing to celestial.

Fists in the Pocket is a rough ride.  The film has comic moments but is essentially humorless and ultimately one-note, which makes the film relentlessly grim.  The film is sincere, and I assume very personal; this may be depending on your point of view, a flaw.  Would the film be more powerful with a little distancing?  I’m reminded of one of my NYU professor’s comments to a student after screening a project.  This professor was also one of Oliver Stone’s instructors.  He said to the student after the screening, ‘As I once said to Oliver Stone, it’s very good, but Oliver, put down the sledgehammer.’

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The transfer of Fists in the Pocket looks very good.  It’s based on a 4K restoration by Cineteca di Bologna supervised by Bellocchio.  According to the ‘About The Restoration’ notes, the contrast in this version was heightened to emulate the look of the British Free Cinema movement of the late 50s and early 60s.  This look was not possible for the film’s initial release due to a lab error. The look does resemble films from that era.

Audio: 4.5/5

According to the same notes, the mono audio has been restored by L’Immagine Ritrovata from a 35mm magnetic track and the original soundtrack negative.  I’m unfamiliar with ‘original soundtrack negative’ but the audio is very good.  Morricone’s music sounds wonderful.

 

Special Features: 3/5

Special Features include:

Interviews ported over from the DVD release with director Bellocchio, actors Castel and Pitagora, editor Silvano Agosti, critic Tuillio Kezich, and director Bernardo Bertolucci.

A new interview with film scholar Stefano Albertini

New English translation subtitles

An essay by film critic Deborah Young also from the DVD release

Surprisingly there is no audio commentary

Overall: 4/5

Marco Bellocchio’s Fists in the Pocket is an uncompromising, angry film.  As I’ve grown older, I’ve become ambivalent about films like this. On one hand it wallows in unpleasantness, challenging the viewer.  On the other hand, I appreciate the craft and drive it takes to get something like this made.  If you admire Marco Bellocchio and particularly this film, I can’t imagine it ever looking better than Criterion’s blu ray.

https://www.amazon.com/Fists-Pocket-Criterion-Collection-Blu-ray/dp/B07T43YBLD/ref=tmm_blu_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

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Timothy Bodzioney

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Lord Dalek

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"Original soundtrack negative" is Criterion's way of saying the optical track on the O-neg
 

lark144

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Nice review, Timothy. Of course, when I was 19, I loved this film and completely identified with Allesandro. I also found it a lot funnier than you do. I took the events detailed in the film as satirical and rhetorical,rather than realistic. I don't know how I'd feel about it now,
and your review had convinced me that, at least in terms of this film, "you can't go home again."

I liked the quote from your anonymous NYU professor. Sounds to me like Haig, who was my professor as well, though when I was there, he mostly told stories about Scorsese. Nonetheless, he was a remarkable human being, and I consider myself lucky to have been exposed to his indelible enthusiasm.
 
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Timothy Bodzioney

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Mark, I certainly may have misread the tone - it sometimes happens to the best of us.

It wasn't Haig; I missed him by a few years. But it was one of his disciples. Outside of Production, I was lucky enough to have taken a few Cinema Studies classes with William K. Everson. He was also a nice man. I was an undergraduate and his classes were graduate level. I had to get his approval and he always allowed me into the classes.
 
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lark144

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Mark, I certainly may have misread the tone - it sometimes happens to the best of us.

It wasn't Haig; I missed him by a few years. But it was one of his disciples. Outside of Production, I was lucky enough to have taken a few Cinema Studies classes with William K. Everson. He was also a nice man. I was an undergraduate and his classes were graduate level. I had to get his approval and he always allowed me into the classes.
Bill Everson was an extraordinarily sweet man. It's too bad you never met Haig. He was enthusiasm personified. I started at NYU in the early 1970's, but then took a leave of absence. Three times I applied for readmission, but the office mislaid my application and I finally gave up. Then one day I was walking through Washington Square Park in early September and ran into Haig. Where have you been?" he asked. I explained my situation, and he took me into the department (which was then in the South Building on West 4th) set up my schedule and said, "Ok, you're in." That certainly wouldn't happen today! It's an experience I'll always treasure, though I ended up getting into the exhibition side of the business instead of production.
 

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Bill Everson was an extraordinarily sweet man. It's too bad you never met Haig. He was enthusiasm personified. I started at NYU in the early 1970's, but then took a leave of absence. Three times I applied for readmission, but the office mislaid my application and I finally gave up. Then one day I was walking through Washington Square Park in early September and ran into Haig. Where have you been?" he asked. I explained my situation, and he took me into the department (which was then in the South Building on West 4th) set up my schedule and said, "Ok, you're in." That certainly wouldn't happen today! It's an experience I'll always treasure, though I ended up getting into the exhibition side of the business instead of production.
That's a great NYU story. I was there in the 90s (I went to college late) and that would never have happened even then.
Everson was a very generous man as well. At the end of each semester, he would invite students over to his apartment to screen movies he didn't have time to squeeze into the class he just finished. He would start in the early afternoon and go until the last student left. I alwasy felt like I was imposing and would leave after the third movie. I can't imagine how late those screenings went.

For one of his classes, I wrote a paper on Roy Ward Baker. When we were discussing the final paper he asked me why I hadn't included the movie Inferno in the paper. I said I would have liked to but I didn't have access to a copy. He said, "I own a 16mm print; you should have asked."
 

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That's a great NYU story. I was there in the 90s (I went to college late) and that would never have happened even then.
Everson was a very generous man as well. At the end of each semester, he would invite students over to his apartment to screen movies he didn't have time to squeeze into the class he just finished. He would start in the early afternoon and go until the last student left. I alwasy felt like I was imposing and would leave after the third movie. I can't imagine how late those screenings went.

For one of his classes, I wrote a paper on Roy Ward Baker. When we were discussing the final paper he asked me why I hadn't included the movie Inferno in the paper. I said I would have liked to but I didn't have access to a copy. He said, "I own a 16mm print; you should have asked."
Yes. Bill was very generous about lending prints. The inside of his apartment was like a magical land; a huge pre-war two bedroom apartment with a pantry (which was larger than my one bedroom) and a maid's room and a bay window with, if I remember correctly, a balcony that looked out on the street, and the first thing you noticed when you walked in was a 16mm projector on top of a few phone books, a screen that mostly covered the bay window with a few sheets to block out the light, and stacks of 16mm prints from floor to ceiling wherever one looked.
 
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