Shot in black and white, this dirty classic centres on a rich family living in the North of Italy. The director takes a very acid look at the traditional role of each character. The father has died but his power within the family still lives on through his eldest son Augusto (Marino Mase) – his name is Latin for “great” or “venerable”. He believes he knows what is best for his brothers, sister, mother, fiancee and lover. The mother (Liliana Gerace) is entirely powerless, simply ordered around by others. The director made her blind and nameless in order to emphasise her passivity: she is simply “la mamma”.
The sister Giulia (Paola Pitagora) is a frivolous young lady, who spends her time sunbathing or prancing around with her brothers. She encourages Alessandro’s (Lou Castel) to write poems, but it is all in vain. Augusto thinks Alessandro is a loser. Sandro cannot even take care of his rabbits. The younger brother, Leone (Pier Luigi Troglio) is totally devoted to the mother and visibly handicapped. There is also the aristocratic and virgin fiancee Lucia (Jeannie McNeil) plus some hookers, who rescue the boys from loneliness.
Such family model is destined to die tragically. The hero Alessandro is sick: he suffers from epilepsy. Despite his condition, he believes that he can set his family free from suffering. Sadly, the only plausible way of achieving this is by killing them.
Just like in Bellocchio’s movie, the tragic heroes created by David Cronenberg also suffer from some sort of sickness. The difference is that for the Canadian director the malaise has a very twisted origin. In Videodrome (1983), the hero is exposed to lethal rays, in The Fly (1986) there is a genetic manipulation, or drugs in Dead Ringers (1988) and Naked Lunch (1991). In Bellocchio’s movie, however, sickness is a symptom of a corrupted social system. Institutions such as family and the Catholic Church turn men into grotesque creatures.
Alessandro is a savage and yet sensitive young man, and we love him because of his ambivalent and immoral behaviour. Fists in the Pocket transgresses the common notion of what is morally acceptable. Is he entitled to kill his blind mother in the name of freedom? Will he become more respectful as a man if he sleeps with hookers? Will he have more responsibility if he passes his driving exam?
Fists in the Pocket has significant elements that follow Bellocchio throughout his career, most notably his furious attack on the bourgeoisie. Indeed, his debut film is a punch on the face of the aristocratic values that survive still in today’s Italy.
The film has now been restored under the surveillance of the director Bellocchio. It finally achieved the right contrast of black and white that he couldn’t get in the 1960s. The original soundtrack composed by Ennio Morricone is also an integral part of the movie. It lends an insane tone to the film, that culminates with ecstasy.
Marco Bellocchio is the current president of Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna. The organisation is known as a place for archive conservation and restoration, film and audiovisual promotion and dissemination, training, research, and publishing. Bologna is also the centre of Festival Cinema Ritrovato, the event that inspired a small edition in Bristol called Cinema Rediscovered.
Cinema Rediscovered screened the restored version of Fists in The Pocket this weekend at the Watershed Cinema in Bristol as part of Cinema Rediscovered. Cinema curator Mark Cosgrove admitted that going to the festival in Bologna for several years changed his preconceived ideas of a classic film. He says: “sometimes we don’t remember why a film is considered a cult movie until we have the chance to watch it again”. Click here in order to find out more about the project and how to see the film now.
Watch one of the most famous scenes from the movie below: