The visual drag of Marco Bellocchio’s feature film debut, Fists in the Pocket, is its style. Prefiguring Lucrecia Martel’s La Cienaga by 35 years, this Italian gothic is immediately engrossed by the stagnant air that enshrines its milieu. Belloccio puts tracks on his story’s exposed nerves, affecting a slow-moving fun house ride through a provincial Italian house and the world outside. The gears are perpetually set to abstraction: It’s a disconcerting thing in a black-and-white film when a woman points to a line of prostitutes and says, “The one in red.” Shot impeccably by Alberto Marrama and dipped in hushed Ennio Morricone lullabies, the film’s visual intensity presents the iconography of a world in transition. Through a haze of simmering sexual tensions, suicide threats, seizure attacks, and slaps across the face emerges Alesandro (Lou Castel), a young man with the face of Doogie Howser and the imploding-exploding personality of Stanley Kowalski. Implicit in his pathological behavior is not so much a gross disconnect from the world but a mad desperation to transcend his forced provincialism. Undesirables here are his mother, a blind coot with perpetual circles around her eyes, and a mentally retarded brother who gets the most lucid declaration in the film: “What torture, living in this house.” When Augusto (Marino Masé) reads Alesandro’s note, a promise of suicide, shock settles into what could be considered relief when his girlfriend comes over to play. Alesandro’s behavior may suggest the mania of a caged animal, but often his crazed tricks reveal the animal in others. The graphic intensity of the film begins to lose its luster by film’s end, but if Alesandro’s behavior at a party is any indication, perhaps Bellocchio is attempting to spoof Michelangelo Antonioni’s La Notte and, by extension, to reveal his main character’s misguided sense of privilege. The film comes on strong—no Linda Blair-style pisser in the living room to foreshow its fireworks—and, perhaps appropriately, ends with something close to an exorcism.
Stunning. One of the cleanest, sleekest Criterion transfers I’ve seen in a while. There are hints of edge enhancement sprinkled throughout, but Alberto Marrama’s cinematography pulsates with ferocious vibrancy. The mono Italian soundtrack is considerably less rewarding: The sounds of the echo-chamber bathroom in the film come through evocatively but I had to really pump up the volume on my system to get dialogue to register.
A collection of interviews with director Bellocchio, actors Lou Castel and Paola Pitagora, editor Silvano Agosti, and critic Tullio Kezich are stitched together to provide a light overview of the film’s evolution and status today, from its inception to a pan from my boy Buñuel. Bernardo Bertolucci’s video afterward runs only 10 minutes but it has the authority and scope of a feature-length commentary track. Also included here is the film’s original theatrical trailer and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Deborah Young and an interview with Bellocchio.
Fists in the Pocket is no walk in the park.