Jul 26, 2014
After first seeing him play the character based on Bavarian auteur Rainer Werner Fassbinder in
Beware of a Holy Whore (1971), Lou Castel (The Scarlet Letter, The American Friend)—a Colombian born actor of 1/2 Swedish racial stock who got his start in film acting playing as an uncredited extra in Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard (1963) and who starred in important arthouse works by everyone from Pier Paolo Pasolini to Philippe Garrel, as well as sleazy Guido nunsploitation flicks like Killer Nun (1978)—has always rubbed me the wrong way, which is certainly a good thing when playing creepy twerp characters like the actor did. Indeed, for his breakout role in the Italian film Fists in the Pocket (1965) aka I pugni in tasca directed by Marco Bellocchio (Slap the Monster on Page One aka Sbatti il mostro in prima pagina, Vincere) he portrayed a bourgeois epileptic who absurdly commits matricide and fratricide in an ostensible attempt to liberate his sole ‘normal’ brother from a life of virtual enslavement to a family of invalids who rely on his generosity. A work that predates the far-left student movements that almost plunged Italy and various other European nations into civil wars, Bellocchio’s film is completely anti-bourgeois to the quasi-commie core that demonstrates why the auteur trashed his co-commie cinematic compatriot in the winter 1967-68 issue of Sight & Sound when he stated, “…the sad thing about Visconti is that today he is part of the bourgeois life that he really could analyze and criticize ten years ago. His recent films are trivial and unimportant.” Directed by Bellocchio when he was only 26, Fists in the Pocket is undoubtedly an exceedingly idiosyncratic work that, like Bernardo Bertolucci’s second feature Before the Revolution (1964) aka Prima della rivoluzione, helped take Italian cinema out of the neorealist era and start a new and highly experimental period in Guido cinema. Still delightfully deranged after all these years, originally being released nearly half a century ago, the film was so controversial upon its release that it was attacked by two of auteur Bellocchio’s greatest heroes, Luis Buñuel and Michelangelo Antonioni. Part Guido Gothic horror, part anti-Visconti family melodrama, part libertine black comedy, and part sadistic keenly class conscious quasi-Marxist satire, Bellocchio’s brazen directorial debut is nothing short of a berserk black-and-white celluloid monster that sinisterly devours and dementedly regurgitates film genre conventions, Catholicism, and bourgeois traditions in a rather refined iconoclastic fashion that does not resemble the mental masturbation of a pedantic film nerd/Marxist ideologue with too much time on their hands. Starring Castel as a sort of bonkers Brando figure (indeed, a photograph of Brando from The Wild One (1953) is featured prominently towards the end of the film), Fists in the Pocket is ultimately a rare work of ‘revolutionary cinema’ that has aged quite gracefully that does not only still feature subversiveness, but acts as an example of what Pasolini once described as a “cinema of prose” (as opposed to a “cinema of poetry,” which the auteur used to describe Bertolucci’s French New Wave inspired works).
Alessandro aka Ale aka Sandrino (Lou Castel) is the black sheep of a once-well-to-do bourgeois family that no longer has a patriarch (what happened to the father is never mentioned), so the eldest son Augusto (Marino Masé) has reluctantly taken over and now financially supports his blind mother and epileptic siblings. Indeed, his Mother (Liliana Gerace) costs him 3 million lire alone. Ostensibly to help his brother become free from financial and familial slavery, blonde beast Alessandro—a young epileptic degenerate who seems to be suffering from a high-functioning form of autism and stares at people at parties as if he wants to murder every single one of them—decides that he will kill his mother and siblings. Indeed, after failing to execute a plan where he hoped to kill himself and his entire family sans Augusto during a periodic trip to a cemetery (he even writes his brother a suicide letter discussing how he would like to be cremated), Alessandro exterminates his blind Madre by pushing her off a cliff and states, “Blessed mother, pray for her,” right afterward. For whatever reason, Alessandro decides to tell his sister Giulia (Paola Pitagora) that he was responsible for their mother’s death. Indeed, Alessandro also complains of his brother's seeming lack of gratitude, as well as his jealously of his big bro’s fiancé Lucia (Jeannie McNeil), stating, “I killed her [their mother]…with these hands despite my fears. I risked life imprisonment for the family’s benefit, while he, like a thief suddenly becomes “big brother.” He brings in Lucia and has her serve coffee, and he’ll walk off with the fortune I made! This little brain of mine…that you didn’t trust an inch…planned the whole thing.” Naturally, Alessandro and his sister destroy their mother’s things in an attempt to erase her memory. Of course, Alessandro is not quite finished after offing his mother, as he has a rather retarded brother named Leone (Pier Luigi Troglio), who also must die. After his mother’s somewhat eerie funeral where the prodigal son leaps over his passed progenitor’s coffin, Alessandro opts for giving him an overdose of drugs while he is taking a bath, which causes his sister Giulia to have such a bad seizure that the doctor tells him that, “She could live or die or end up paralyzed.” Despite being much closer to Giulia than his other siblings, Alessandro considers smothering her with a pillow, but pussies out. In the end, Alessandro, who tells himself, “everything’s working out for the better,” seems to finally succumb to his familicidal guilt after singing opera in a Werner Schroeter-esque scene and seems to die after a panic attack.
Featuring a rather unconventional Ennio Morricone score, bizarre Marlon Brando worship, and Lou Castel in what is undoubtedly his most loony role to date as a decidedly Dostoevsky-esque character in a rather idiosyncratic work that is equally as stark as it is sardonic, Fists in the Pocket is certainly the sort of audience-dividing work that people will either love or love to hate. While auteur Marco Bellocchio joined a Marxist–Leninist group called the ‘Communist Union’ three years after the release of his debut film, the work seems more like the product of a naughty nihilistic member of the bourgeois who has fantasies about killing his relatives and thus used cinema as an outlet to carry out said sick fantasy. In fact, the auteur came from a very similar family to that featured in the film, with Bellocchio once stating in an interview conducted by Danish filmmaker Christian Braad Thomsen featured in the winter 1967-68 issue of Sight & Sound: “The film is not autobiographical in the sense that I recognize myself in a particular sequence or a particular character. I have tried to avoid that. On the other hand, I was raised in a bourgeois family, in the same sort of provincial milieu as that described in the film. This is all part of my own experience, and my life has been a strong reaction to my bourgeois and Catholic adolescence.” Indeed, in terms of fucked families, Bellocchio’s puts all of Fassbinder’s films to shame and even makes Pasolini’s Teorema (1968) seem somewhat boobeoise by comparison. As I assumed while watching the film, Bellocchio has described the antihero played by Lou Castel featured his debut film as a quasi-fascist of sorts, remarking: “The boy in FISTS IN THE POCKET is destroyed because he will not accept reality. His attempt to escape reveals not only decadent but semi-fascists traits. I was brought up in a large family that was founded in the Fascist period in Italy, and though my father was not a member of the Fascist Party, I suppose he was emotionally linked to its policy.” Indeed, not unlike the films associated with German New Cinema, Bellocchio's work demonstrates a certain incapacity with dealing with his nation's past, with post-WWII 'fascism' taking a rather aberrant and sinister form of the somewhat ironic family-exterminating sort. Unfortunately, as his later works like Vincere (2009) demonstrate, Bellocchio eventually became soft with age, with Fists in the Pocket easily being the most audacious, unconventional, and curious film he has made to date. Unquestionably, if it were not for Bellocchio, Italy would have never produced directors as uniquely and unsettlingly subversive as Albert Cavallone (Spell – Dolce mattatoio, Man, Woman & Beast, Blue Movie), who also assembled a singular oeuvre of truly modernist apocalyptic horror. Indeed, not just a movie, Bellocchio’s Fists in the Pocket is a celluloid symptom of the death of the Occident and its accompanying spiritual sickness.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 3:11 AM
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