I pugni in tasca (Fists in the Pocket), 1965
Dir: Marco Bellocchio
September 8, 2009
"Fists in the Pocket"; the term in itself, to me anyway, brings up teenage angst and uneasiness that is, I think anyway, what this film is trying to portray. It's attack on European bourgeois culture sometimes hits the nail on the head, but I can't help but feel that this film is, for lack of a better word, retarded, but this might be exactly what Bellocchio wants. This probably has something to do with some of the characters in this film. The end is pretty much a parody/send-up of the ending of Antonioni's L'avventura (1963), which, unlike I pugni in tasca, is a masterpiece and an important milestone of European and Italian cinema. If you ever feel the need to see this, I might recommend watching L'avventura first. It might help clarify some things.
The film's setup is that four adult children live with their blind mother in the suburbs, and that this is basically the perfect fermentation for the bourgeois culture run amok. Augusto (Marino Masé), the oldest, is the breadwinner and basic caretaker for the rest, but seems annoyed that he can't be in city hitting on chicks and going to parties. Giulia (Paola Pitagora, who looks like a young Barbara Streisand, is HAWT. I have never been attracted to Barbara, but I think I might be now. Is that weird?) is the only girl, and seems like she has some mental instability. Leone (Pier Luigi Troglio) is mentally retarded and suffers from epilepsy. The film is, however, about Alessandro (played with reckless abandon by Swedish actor Lou Castel), who, as well as suffering from epilepsy, might possibly be insane (either that or mildly retarded). Ale (as he is sometimes called, or Sandro) makes up his mind that getting rid of his blind mother and retarded brother will ease the burdens on his dysfunctional family, especially those of Augusto, who he sort looks up to but also hates a lot. By the end, you have no sympathy for any of the characters, except maybe Leone, who is basically treated with disdain by his siblings, is sad when his mom dies, and just wants to hang out with his brothers and his sister most of the time. Giulia and Augusto both know that Ale might do these heinous acts, and yet they do nothing, and Giulia freaks out when she realizes that Ale has drowned Leone, as if she didn't know that he was a killer already.
There is a completely bizarre almost incestuous relationship between Ale and Giulia, and it's context in the film can only be described in retrospect to the bizarre things that all of the characters do. At a certain point they are looking at the pictures and paintings on their mother's wall, and all of their old relatives look like Hapsburg cross-eyed mogoloids. It is never really specifically implied if continuous inbreeding has anything to do with their conditions, but the relationship that Ale and Gulia have and everyone's mental and health problems made me immediately think about it.
(It also made me think of one of my favorite modern European monarchs, Robert I, Duke of Parma, a fellow Italian. After marrying a fellow Bourbon princess (of a different cadet branch), he went on to father 12 children with her, of which only 2 were not mentally retarded, died in infancy or were stillborn. Now, if you have more than one retarded child, wouldn't you stop for two seconds and think, "Gee, another retarded one? There must be something wrong with us." But nope, got his wife to pop out 12, where she died in child birth, which was a stillborn. What a fucking asshole. He got married again later and had 10 more kids! Some dukes, man. Yet I digress way too much.) Portraying these types of relationships in the context of European society on screen, along with the whole blase attitude about life where you can do what you want and get away with it, has, for Bellocchio, it's roots in directors like Antonioni and Buñuel. The entire point of this film is to stick a knife in the eye of the old European order which was still clinging to power, which as many critics point out, was being threatened with the student riots of the 1960s.
All of the acting seems well done, the atmospheric black and white cinematography seems like it was developed from some dingy retarded nightmare and Ennio Morricone's haunting score works well when Ale finally gets to take out what he thinks are his burdensome relatives. But throughout the entire thing, I kept thinking in the back of my mind, "This is fucking retarded." It might all be some Brechtian put-off, and the joke's on me, but epilepsy as a metaphor for teen angst? Seriously? All of the frenzied retardation is kind of analogous to the stream-of-conscious jumble which William Faulkner used at the beginning of The Sound and the Fury, and is used to the same effect here i.e., to chart a family's disintegration as a mirror to the decaying grandeur of a dying society. But, if that's the case, I feel like I've seen that before in Antonioni's work, and I am much more partial to that I guess. As a opposed to blabbing and flapping, Antonioni uses austere silecnce and longing looks to communicate the inability to communicate. So, in the end, maybe I am supposed to think that this is retarded, and the director actually did a fine job. But I can't really shake all of the negative feelings that are connected to that. I guess I can see why people think this is great, but I'm going with my gut on this one. Over-rated.