Fists in the Pocket, 1965

An off-screen male voice reads an anonymous note, meticulously assembled from clipped newsprint letters and addressed to a woman named Lucia (Jeannie MacNeil), bearing the scandalous information of a long-term affair between her fiancé Augusto (Marino Masé) and the note’s author in a possessive and desperate attempt to drive the unsuspecting young woman away. It is an incendiary disclosure that takes on an even more malicious and baffling dimension when the reader, Augusto, expresses his suspicion that his own sister Giulia (Paola Pitagora) had composed the malevolent, fabricated story, perhaps in order to prevent their impending marriage and consequently, his inevitable departure from his blind mother’s (Liliana Gerace) hillside family villa on the outskirts of town and planned relocation to an apartment in the city. The sinister and implicitly incestuous tone of the couple’s brief argument is further broached on a subsequent episode when Augusto encounters the narcissistic Giulia waiting on the side of a road for him – presumptuously expecting to be rescued from the flirtatious taunting of two crude revelers on a motorcycle (as she, in turn, coyishly spurns them with feigned annoyance) – and on the way home, reveals that their brother Alessandro (Lou Castel) has written a love poem for her. In an intriguingly metaphoric and ominous character introduction shot, Alessandro, the adrift, melancholic, and perennially unemployed brother, seemingly falls from the sky (ostensibly from an out of view tree limb) and lands into the frame of an empty landscape before insinuating himself between his younger brother Leone (Pier Luigi Troglio) (who, like Alessandro, also suffers from chronic epileptic seizures) and Leone’s pet rabbits in order to personally tend to their care. It is Alessandro’s complex and irreconcilable persona – samaritan and bully, unrequited romantic and repressed voyeur – that ultimately exposes the innate depravity of the household as the tormented, self-destructive young man resolves to liberate his older brother from his perceived (and assumed) burden of responsibility towards his helpless and emotionally crippled family.

Auspiciously (and with inevitable controversy) ushering a compelling introduction into the provocative, overarching themes of Marco Bellocchio’s radical and uncompromising sociopolitical cinema, Fists in the Pocket is an austere and harrowing portrait of amorality, alienation, complacency, and inertia. Bellocchio presents moral desolation and psychological fracture through the manifestation of physical disability (an involuntary metastasis similarly incorporated in Bruno Dumont’s Life of Jesus and Tsai Ming-liang’s The River), in order to provide an allegorical examination of the intrinsic corruption and perverting nature of fascism’s inherently isolative, centralized authority: the incestuous behavior of Giulia, Alessandro, and Augusto that reflect the inbredness of their territorialized, self-perpetuating roles within the household; Giulia’s narcissism and acts of emotional sabotage to keep the nuclear family intact; Alessandro’s unpredictable, violent tendencies towards anomalous conduct and exhibition of human weakness. By depicting the betraying, autonomic, internalized physical ruptures of a decadent, privileged family’s self-consuming dysfunctional interrelationships and venal attempts at myopic self-preservation, Bellocchio illustrates the futility of inaction and apathy, and the moral imperative of individuality and personal conscience.

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