Home Video Hovel: Fists in the Pocket, by West Anthony
Marco Bellocchio’s 1965 debut film Fists in the Pocket reminded me of my family and that’s not a good thing. A ferociously unpleasant depiction of a family that appears to be slowly eating itself alive and asking for seconds, the film stars Swedish actor Lou Castel as Alessandro, one of a brood of four adult children all living under the roof of their blind mother. Everyone under that roof is unhappy to some extent and they act out in ways that are acceptable (barely) and unacceptable (hoo boy) until Alessandro decides that the best thing for this mob–and himself–is to bump them off. (Perhaps Italy wasn’t big on group therapy in those days.) The way all this plays out spirals into darker and darker territory that has to be seen to be believed.
The picture is anchored by Castel (who bears a more than slight resemblance to a young Marlon Brando) and his performance is unnverving: Even when he isn’t lashing out at someone in those moments alone in his room suffused with silent melancholy or even if he’s just wordlessly looking at someone, you get the feeling that he’s a coiled snake waiting to pounce. And when he eventually does take action, he’s less like a rattlesnake striking and more like a boa constrictor slowly digesting its prey. Bellocchio gently but insistently ratchets up the tension and doesn’t really play moments for shock value, preferring instead to depict the slow, dreadful inevitability of the protagonist going about his creepy business. The director’s mood is helped with another fine score by Ennio Morricone, who seems to be channeling the “Dies Irae”–the first few notes of his main theme are very similar; check out the opening of The Shining in which Wendy Carlos adapted the “Dies Irae” with electronic instruments. (As a long-time collector of Morricone’s music, this is one of many instances in which I’d heard the score before ever seeing the movie; it’s nice to finally be able to put a face to the voice, so to speak.)
The Criterion Collection released Fists In The Pocket on DVD some time ago; now it’s been spruced up for Blu-ray with a spiffy black-and-white image so clean you could eat off it. Extras include a new interview with Stefano Albertini and old interviews with key personnel. Here comes a warning: if, like me, you can’t stand people who say “uhhhhhhhhhh” and “ummmmmmm” as though they were terrified of having to gather their thoughts in silence, you aren’t going to like Bellocchio’s interview segments. At all. On the other hand, editor Silvano Agosti’s revelation that he only entered film school for the free food–you heard me–is probably the best reason to go to film school that I’ve ever found.
There have been many great dysfunctional family films over the years–Ordinary People, The Devil’s Rejects, The Wizard of Oz (What? THEY LEFT HER OUTSIDE IN A TORNADO!)–and Fists In The Pocket surely belongs in that pantheon. Bellocchio is still working today–his latest film, The Traitor, is Italy’s pick to click for the Best Foreign Language Film in next year’s Oscars–and while he’s no great shakes in the interview department, as a filmmaker he’s doing all right. Fists In The Pocket is as sharp a debut film as there’s ever been and if you’d like your faith in the family unit shaken to its core, your chariot awaits.