Directed by Marco Bellocchio. Starring Lou Castel ("Alessandro"), Paola Pitagora ("Giulia"), Marino Masé ("Augusto"), and Liliana Gerace ("Mother"). Not Rated.
Source: Region 1 DVD (Criterion)
Running time: 01:48:47
Picked by Laurence R. Harvey
FISTS IN THE POCKET, which focuses entirely on a group of troubled siblings, is an Italian film regarded by many as a masterpiece and an important film in the history of Italian cinema. It even got the Criterion treatment, so you know it must be good (we'll see about that). Admittedly, I had never heard of this film when Laurence picked it for me to review (as well as many other interesting titles that he threw my way), which shouldn't come as a surprise to those who know me well since I'm not the type of person who seeks out prestigious Criterion-worthy films on a regular basis. After doing some research and reading the synopsis, which mentioned something about a death-obsessed epileptic throwing his blind mother into a ravine, I went ahead and made FISTS IN THE POCKET a top priority. Gotta love death-obsessed epileptics throwing blind mothers into revines!
Barely looking after their blind mother are a group of mentally-disturbed and physically-challenged siblings who are without a father figure. Despite being under the supervision of the only "normal" one of the bunch (the eldest son, Augusto), their behavior reflects that of neglected children. Giulia, the only girl, is absolutely stunning but she obviously has a demented side; not the point where you'd be scared to be alone in a room with her (quite the contrary!), but something about her just seems a little "off", as evidenced by her immature behavior and certain mannerisms that would suggest she's not above incestuous relations with one of her siblings. Leone, who's pretty much a non-issue throughout the film, suffers from epilepsy and some sort of mental disorder. Finally, there's the deceptively smart but clearly maniacal Alessandro, who has delusions of ridding the family of their various afflictions with hopes of leading a normal life.
There's some brilliant casting here, especially with Lou Castel as Alessandro; as soon as the family is introduced, Castel doesn't even have to utter a single word before you know his character is gonna be the one who inevitably poses a problem at a certain point in the film, and boy does he. In the grand scheme of films about demented children and fucked-up families, the family in this particular film is actually quite tame, and Alessandro hardly stands out as being the baddest of seeds, but he's still quite the character nonetheless and certainly not someone who you'd wanna have living under your roof. Throughout the film, Lou Castel provides his character with little quirks that seem spot-on for someone living with the variety of illnesses that Alessandro possesses (OCD, and possibly Autism and ADHD) without seeming like an insensitive performance.
The film takes a turn when Alessandro carries out an act that I already alluded to in the first paragraph of this review (which is not a spoiler), at which point Alessandro, in his mind, assumes the role of father figure, which leads to a scenario where the inmates are running the asylum and the parent-less kids are running amok in their home and living out some sort of fantasy. Not that their disabled mother made a difference when she was alive, but there's a sense of liberation and celebration with their mother out of the picture since they perceived her as a burden. Seeing as this is a character-driven film, the removal of the mother from the story doesn't really lead to any drastic changes in terms of the plot, but it does allow for Alessandro to carry out some rather heinous deeds.
FISTS IN THE POCKET sorta reminds me of the Spanish psychological horror movie BELL FROM HELL in the sense that you have this outcast of a lead character amongst a family dealing with some serious drama. Whereas the lead character in BELL FROM HELL was a genuinely misunderstood person who really was an outcast, the character in this film merely perceives being unwanted and misunderstood in his own head, although Alessandro's argument is justifiable considering he doesn't have anyone in his life telling him otherwise. Also, both films deal with mental illness (one more so than the other) and incest. That's about where the similarities end, though, and I'm sure there are other films out there that came before and after FISTS IN THE POCKET that could draw the same comparisons. Whereas BELL FROM HELL is a self-aware horror film, this one has more of an emphasis on drama and a "message" rather than exploitation. That being said, this film was a tad disappointing in that it didn't quite reach those levels of darkness that I was hoping for.
Looking at it objectively, I can sorta see why this would be considered an important film in the history of Italian cinema, but speaking from the perspective of someone who's not a film scholar or a cinema expert of any kind (nor have I ever claimed to be anything resembling such), I just honestly don't see what the big deal is. FISTS IN THE POCKET is beautifully shot and features great performances from most - if not all - of the cast, but I'm simply not familiar enough with the social issues of Italy at the time to grasp what director Marco Bellocchio was going for here. At the time of its release, it was applauded by a younger generation of fans and critics for being a bold film but trashed by some of Bellocchio's peers and idols in the filmmaking industry. As for me, I was impressed by certain aspects of it but wanted to hit the fast-forward button on numerous occasions.