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The Criterion Collection presents
Fists in the Pocket (1965)

"What torture, living in this house."
- Leone (Pierluigi Troglio)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: April 25, 2006

Stars: Lou Castel, Paola Pitagora, Marino Masˇ, Liliana Gerace, Pierluigi Troglio, Jenny MacNeil
Director: Marco Bellocchio

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:48m:46s
Release Date: April 25, 2006
UPC: 715515017626
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+AB+ B-

DVD Review

Forget the millennia of history, the breathtaking landscape, the inviting Mediterranean landscape, the espresso-fueled bonhomie—there's darkness in the Italian heart, especially for the heirs of the Neorealists, who must have been sick to death of hearing how the grand old men like Rossellini and De Sica re-invented Italian cinema. Fists in the Pocket is Marco Bellocchio's first film, and it's fueled with the anger and creativity and disgust of a young man doing new things—it's not an easy movie to love, and there are many over the years who have hated it, but it demands a kind of wonder, and an enormous amount of respect. If Eugene O'Neill had ever decided to write a horror movie, it would probably have turned out something like this.

The story is a kind of Italian gothic, its claustrophobic focus on one deeply dysfunctional family, inhabiting a decaying villa that shares architectural and psychological parallels with Grey Gardens. Mother (Liliana Gerace) is aged and blind, but remains a passive-aggressive tyrant to her four children—the central figure of the story is Alessandro, the youngest, who brims with an unspecific anger, mad at the world, unsure as to why and what to do about it. (He's played by Lou Castel, who looks like a demonic Doogie Howser.) Alessandro is called by a couple of infantilizing dimunitives—sometimes he's Ale, sometimes he's Sandro, but as the movie goes on, it's clear that he's more than just a bad little boy. He's deeply and darkly dangerous. To begin with, he's got an uneasy and unhealthy attraction to Giulia, his sister—she's played by the lovely Paola Pitagora, and for those of us not her brother, it's not difficult to see what the attraction is. But she's a nasty one, too, if not as on the rack as Augusto (Marino Masé), their control freak of an older brother. In some respects he's the most deeply conflicted, the one who spends the most time out of the hothouse, with his fiancée Lucia (Jenny MacNeil); yet he can't let go of the reins, either, and clearly enjoys sticking it to his siblings. At the mercy of all of them is Leone (Pierluigi), whose mental impairments are more explicit—it's never quite given a name, but he seems to be mentally retarded.

Bellocchio is surprisingly generous with his characters, allowing us to see the world through their varied points of view—on some level, the movie is reminiscent of The Sound and the Fury, with Leone for Benji, Giulia for the elusive Caddy. But the action here is far more unspeakable than it is in Yoknapatawpha County, and years of petty resentments and familial viciousness leads to a disturbingly high body count. They're all so stunted that they're capable only of destruction and inside jokes; the movie lets in some air late in its running time, and at a dance we can see how deeply uncomfortable Alessandro especially is, when he's called upon to do anything but make trouble for his family.

This film established the pattern for Bellocchio's career as a provocateur, and at times he's seemed like he merely wants to be contrary—Devil in the Flesh, for instance, insists that we distinguish between art and pornography, which in many respects here is a distinction without a difference—and with the years, this film has been looked at in a political context, as a harbinger of the discontent of the later 1960s. But it's most provocative on its own terms, really, as a relentless portrait of a family playing out its own doom, a story of overgrown children stealing loaded weapons and firing them at one another, with no one surprised by the consequences.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Bellocchio's cinematographic style is more self-conscious than the wave of filmmakers that preceded him, and his sharp and haunting images have been transferred beautifully on this disc. Inky blacks are arresting, and there's nary a bit of debris to be seen. Very, very strong effort from Criterion here.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono track has a bit of hiss, but my Italophilic wife reports that the dialogue is clear.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 17 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. accompanying booklet
  2. color bars
Extras Review: A Need for Change (33m:28s), produced in 2005, is a look back at the film's production, featuring new interviews with Bellocchio, cast members Castel (inexplicably swinging in a hammock) and Pitagora, editor Silvano Agosta, and film critic and screenwriter Tullio Kezich. The director discusses his days just out of film school, looking to make his mark; he points to Jean Vigo as a crucial influence. Kezich is especially good on the social impact of the film, as is Bernardo Bertolucci, who provides an afterword (10m:26s), on this film and his own early work as the Italian manifestation of the nouvelle vague. The original trailer trumpets the many awards received by the picture at film festivals; the accompanying booklet features an illuminating essay by Deborah Young, and excerpts from a 1968 interview with Bellocchio.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Bourgeois morality and Neorealism both take it on in the chin from Marco Bellocchio in his debut film. It can be unsettling to watch and unpleasant to contemplate, but it's made with fierce determination and ferocious anger, none of which has abated in the 40 years since its theatrical release.


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