Fist in His Pocket


1h 55m 1968
Fist in His Pocket

Brief Synopsis

A deeply disturbed young man subject to seizures decides to murder members of his dysfunctional family.

Film Details

Also Known As
Fists in the Pocket, I pugni in tasca
Genre
Drama
Foreign
Release Date
Jan 1968
Premiere Information
New York opening: 27 May 1968
Production Company
Doria Cinematografica
Distribution Company
Peppercorn-Wormser, Inc.
Country
Italy

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 55m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

In a small villa in the mountains near Piacenza, four grown children and their blind mother suffer through a tense existence together. Augusto is engaged to Lucia and has a good job, but Alessandro, Giulia, and Leone are all epileptics entangled in a web of quarrels, helplessness, and catalepsy. Alessandro, aware that Augusto's private life is suffering because of the family's dependence on him, decides to help alleviate the problem. He tells Augusto that on their next excursion by car to their father's grave, he will drive the family off a cliff and be rid of them. Augusto, half-wishing that his brother would carry out the plan, allows him to have the car; but en route, Alessandro begins racing another car and forgets his original scheme. Some time later, however, he pushes his mother out of the car, and she falls to her death. Alessandro then decides to start a chinchilla farm with the family savings, but Augusto hopes to use the money to rent an apartment for himself and Lucia. Alessandro then murders Leone by drowning him in his bath. Giulia, who is in love with Alessandro, becomes terrified when he confesses the murder to her, and she has a cataleptic attack. She is confined to her bed, nearly paralyzed with fear. Alessandro enters her room determined to kill her but changes his mind and, instead, returns to his room, plays a succession of operatic arias on the phonograph, and undergoes severe epileptic seizures. He calls to Giulia for help, but she does not move to give him assistance.

Film Details

Also Known As
Fists in the Pocket, I pugni in tasca
Genre
Drama
Foreign
Release Date
Jan 1968
Premiere Information
New York opening: 27 May 1968
Production Company
Doria Cinematografica
Distribution Company
Peppercorn-Wormser, Inc.
Country
Italy

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 55m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

Fists in the Pocket


While many international devotees of Italian cinema in 1965 were transfixed by Federico Fellini's first full-length foray into color with Juliet of the Spirits, another filmmaker was making a splash with his debut: Fists in the Pocket (I pugni in tasca), from filmmaker Marco Bellocchio. In a move that would be duplicated by independent filmmakers for decades, the project was put together with money scraped together from relatives and shot on his family property outside Piacenza.

One of the more confrontational films of its era, Fists in the Pocket explores the nihilistic course of a young man named Alessandro (Lou Castel) who decides to exterminate his family, consisting of an invalid mother and three siblings. Plagued by seizures and living only to raise chinchillas, he shows no regard for normal social mores like religion, nationalism, or family pride; fascinatingly, the real world would follow suit shortly after with the status quo feeling the young were going into revolt thanks to anti-war protests and the rejection of bourgeois conventions. In a sense you could see this film as a precursor to both the counterculture movement of the late '60s all the way to the snarling darkness of punk rock, whose performers echo the disturbing physicality found in Castel's performance.

The simmering political undercurrents of this film weren't entirely obvious given the subject matter, a sort of domestic horror film with the aesthetic approach of a master painter, but they became a dominant force in most of Bellocchio's later films. None were quite as renowned outside Italy as this incendiary debut, but his streak of worthwhile films is significant with titles including China Is Near (1967), In the Name of the Father (1971), Henry IV (1984), the infamous X-rated art house offering Devil in the Flesh (1986), the little-seen but striking The Sabbath, and more recently, the controversial euthanasia drama Dormant Beauty (2012).

Bellocchio also belonged to the relatively new phenomenon of film students breaking into the industry, having completed one short film, La colpa e la pena (1961), and the more substantial almost-feature Ginepro fatto uomo (1962). However, no one could have anticipated the impact of his first bona fide feature, which drew the scorn of established filmmakers upon its festival screenings but won the Silver Sail award at the Locarno International Film Festival, followed by a Silver Ribbon for its screenplay from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists.

Strangely lacking in awards consideration but an undeniable primary source of the film's power is Castel, who was born in Colombia as Ulv Quarzéll. Fortunately producers quickly took note, and he has remained steadily acting ever since with a variety of roles including Damiano Damiani's political spaghetti western A Bullet for the General (1966), Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Beware of a Holy Whore (1971), Claude Chabrol's Nada (1974), Wim Wenders' The American Friend (1977), and Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep (1996). Like Bellocchio, Castel had radical leftist political leanings which strongly influenced his role choices, a tactic common among European actors at the time (perhaps most famously with Gian Maria Volonté).

Of course, perhaps the most famous name associated with this film is one behind the camera: composer Ennio Morricone, whose sparing but effective dashes of experimental music are woven into the classical selections chosen by Bellocchio. Though still at the beginning of his career, he was already turning out numerous scores each year after the previous year's breakthrough with Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and Bernardo Bertolucci's Before the Revolution. To give an idea of his versatility, the same year he worked on this film, his twelve other credits ranged from the organ-fueled gothic reverie of Nightmare Castle to the soaring operatic western For a Few Dollars More. That he managed to find the perfect musical voice for such an orthodox, disturbing film is a testament to both his mastery of his craft and his even more astonishing ability to repeat this feat hundreds of times throughout his career.

By Nathaniel Thompson
Fists In The Pocket

Fists in the Pocket

While many international devotees of Italian cinema in 1965 were transfixed by Federico Fellini's first full-length foray into color with Juliet of the Spirits, another filmmaker was making a splash with his debut: Fists in the Pocket (I pugni in tasca), from filmmaker Marco Bellocchio. In a move that would be duplicated by independent filmmakers for decades, the project was put together with money scraped together from relatives and shot on his family property outside Piacenza. One of the more confrontational films of its era, Fists in the Pocket explores the nihilistic course of a young man named Alessandro (Lou Castel) who decides to exterminate his family, consisting of an invalid mother and three siblings. Plagued by seizures and living only to raise chinchillas, he shows no regard for normal social mores like religion, nationalism, or family pride; fascinatingly, the real world would follow suit shortly after with the status quo feeling the young were going into revolt thanks to anti-war protests and the rejection of bourgeois conventions. In a sense you could see this film as a precursor to both the counterculture movement of the late '60s all the way to the snarling darkness of punk rock, whose performers echo the disturbing physicality found in Castel's performance. The simmering political undercurrents of this film weren't entirely obvious given the subject matter, a sort of domestic horror film with the aesthetic approach of a master painter, but they became a dominant force in most of Bellocchio's later films. None were quite as renowned outside Italy as this incendiary debut, but his streak of worthwhile films is significant with titles including China Is Near (1967), In the Name of the Father (1971), Henry IV (1984), the infamous X-rated art house offering Devil in the Flesh (1986), the little-seen but striking The Sabbath, and more recently, the controversial euthanasia drama Dormant Beauty (2012). Bellocchio also belonged to the relatively new phenomenon of film students breaking into the industry, having completed one short film, La colpa e la pena (1961), and the more substantial almost-feature Ginepro fatto uomo (1962). However, no one could have anticipated the impact of his first bona fide feature, which drew the scorn of established filmmakers upon its festival screenings but won the Silver Sail award at the Locarno International Film Festival, followed by a Silver Ribbon for its screenplay from the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists. Strangely lacking in awards consideration but an undeniable primary source of the film's power is Castel, who was born in Colombia as Ulv Quarzéll. Fortunately producers quickly took note, and he has remained steadily acting ever since with a variety of roles including Damiano Damiani's political spaghetti western A Bullet for the General (1966), Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Beware of a Holy Whore (1971), Claude Chabrol's Nada (1974), Wim Wenders' The American Friend (1977), and Olivier Assayas' Irma Vep (1996). Like Bellocchio, Castel had radical leftist political leanings which strongly influenced his role choices, a tactic common among European actors at the time (perhaps most famously with Gian Maria Volonté). Of course, perhaps the most famous name associated with this film is one behind the camera: composer Ennio Morricone, whose sparing but effective dashes of experimental music are woven into the classical selections chosen by Bellocchio. Though still at the beginning of his career, he was already turning out numerous scores each year after the previous year's breakthrough with Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars and Bernardo Bertolucci's Before the Revolution. To give an idea of his versatility, the same year he worked on this film, his twelve other credits ranged from the organ-fueled gothic reverie of Nightmare Castle to the soaring operatic western For a Few Dollars More. That he managed to find the perfect musical voice for such an orthodox, disturbing film is a testament to both his mastery of his craft and his even more astonishing ability to repeat this feat hundreds of times throughout his career. By Nathaniel Thompson

Fists in the Pocket - Marco Bellocchio's FISTS IN THE POCKET on DVD


European cinema isn't just Bergman, Antonioni, Fellini and Renoir. When not bringing out flawless editions of acknowledged masterpieces, Criterion plays the role of Good Cinema Guide to the less-frequented corners of film history. This fairly obscure Italian gem caused quite a stir at festivals in 1965. It's a debut film from Marco Bellocchio, a major talent with a patchy career. Often mentioned in the same breath as Bernardo Bertolucci's Before the Revolution, Fists in the Pocket's powerful story of a malignant Italian family challenged a number of cinema taboos.

Synopsis: The highly intelligent but unmotivated Alessandro (Lou Castel) has occasional epileptic episodes. He lives with his dysfunctional family in a mountain villa. Younger brother Leone (Pier Luigi Troglio) is also epileptic but more severely impaired, Mother (Liliana Gerace) is blind, and sister Giulia (Paola Pitagora) has adjustment problems of her own. Only elder brother Augusto (Marino Masé) is "normal," and adjusted to his familial responsibility. Giulia writes a crazy letter to Augusto's girlfriend Lucia (Jeannie McNeil) and appears to have incestuous feelings for all of her brothers. But Alessandro is the dangerous one. Suffering from feelings of inadequacy, he convinces Augusto that his epileptic attacks have stopped, while plotting a deliriously perverse plan to murder all of the "useless" family members -- including himself -- to set Augusto free to marry. Unfortunately, Alessandro has expressed so many crazy notions lately that nobody takes him seriously.

Although certain neighbors and locals know better, Alessandro's family seems fairly normal when seen from the outside. Older brother Augusto is a responsible family head. He has a steady girlfriend but is putting off his personal future until he can figure out how to provide for everyone. For now, it's all he can do just to keep siblings Alessandro and Giulia from fighting during dinner.

The household is a nasty scene. The central character is Alessandro, a knot of misdirected self-loathing and frustrations. As far as Alessandro is concerned, the family is a psychic disaster. Brother Leone is a congenital idiot and suffers violent epileptic fits; Alessandro still has an occasional seizure of his own but hides that fact from the judgmental Augusto. A poet and a dreamer, Alessandro lies about a lot of other things as well. Sister Giulia shares caretaker duties for brother Leone; the level of intimacy between the three of them is definitely unhealthy, perhaps even incestuous. Augusto tries to be paternal and keep order while his younger brother and sister fight like cats and dogs. Mother sits through all of this, utterly helpless and disconnected. Her only recreation is an occasional visit to the cemetery.

If Allessandro isn't truly deranged, he works very hard to give that impression. He plots a murder-suicide pact using the family car and comes very close to carrying it out. Giulia is no measure of normalcy, as she's thrilled by her brother's recklessness on the mountain roads. When Giulia realizes what Alessandro had in mind, she's furious --- but not surprised.

All of this is played out like a casual horror film. One would think that Edgar Allan Poe might have emerged from a family similar to this one. Alessandro finds no psychic escape. Augusto is too judgmental and unimaginative. The others are like mirrors of his misery. Completely normal one moment, Alessandro will throw himself into extremes of despair or hilarity for no apparent reason. We watch him with trepidation, wondering when he'll finally flip his lid and do something really terrible. The scary part is that Alessandro's behavior isn't all that different from anybody suffering bouts of emotional depression.

The movie has few actual sexual situations but is uncomfortably frank with its relationships: Something fundamentally sick is going on. Both brothers visit prostitutes, an "accepted" outrage to common morality. Augusto reads Alessandro's note threatening to drive the whole family off a cliff, and calmly decides that it's just an attempt to upset him. He seduces his girlfriend instead of raising an alarm. Viewers able to rationalize Alessandro's wild threats will be taken aback when he finally starts carrying them out.

The amazing performance of Lou Castel aside, Fists in the Pocket is definitely a director's picture. His story structure is similar to one of those gothic horror films in which a mad relative starts a killing spree over a contested will. But the goal here is not an inheritance. By refusing to fall into any easily defined category, Bellocchio's film invites interpretation. Is this a comment on a decadent, crumbling Italy? Does Alessandro represent a suppressed undercurrent of fascism, or revolution? There is a strong basis to interpret the film on political terms.

The miracle of Fists in the Pocket is that it doesn't look like anybody's first film. In the extras we learn that Marco Bellocchio had to scrape his budget together, a statement difficult to believe of the masterfully directed film on view. Bellocchio is equally adept at dramatic dinner table confrontations and expansive exteriors. His elaborate but joyless party scene captures perfectly Alessandro's feeble self-exile. Fists in the Pocket sketches a psychologically complex situation in only a few strokes. Bellocchio's film is not the most pleasant viewing experience, but we can easily imagine it holding a film festival audience spellbound.

Criterion's DVD of Fists in the Pocket is a stunning enhanced transfer of this carefully filmed B&W feature. The movie is technically polished for a first feature.

Disc producer Curtis Tsui assembles a peerless selection of interviews with key creatives on the movie. Director Bellocchio, editor Silvano Agosti and actors Lou Castel and Paola Pitagora are all still with us. They're eager to talk about the film and its 'shocking' content, as when Castel's Alessandro mocks his mother's body at her funeral. Director (and onetime competitor) Bernardo Bertolucci appears in a separate "afterword" to discuss Bellocchio's achievement. Criterion used to call these analytical interviews "introductions" even though they contain terrible spoilers -- renaming them was a good idea.

An original theatrical trailer is a minor work of art in itself. The disc case contains an illustrated booklet with an essay by critic Deborah Young and a printed interview with director Bellocchio.

For more information about Fists in the Pocket, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Fists in the Pocket, go to TCM Shopping.

by Glenn Erickson

Fists in the Pocket - Marco Bellocchio's FISTS IN THE POCKET on DVD

European cinema isn't just Bergman, Antonioni, Fellini and Renoir. When not bringing out flawless editions of acknowledged masterpieces, Criterion plays the role of Good Cinema Guide to the less-frequented corners of film history. This fairly obscure Italian gem caused quite a stir at festivals in 1965. It's a debut film from Marco Bellocchio, a major talent with a patchy career. Often mentioned in the same breath as Bernardo Bertolucci's Before the Revolution, Fists in the Pocket's powerful story of a malignant Italian family challenged a number of cinema taboos. Synopsis: The highly intelligent but unmotivated Alessandro (Lou Castel) has occasional epileptic episodes. He lives with his dysfunctional family in a mountain villa. Younger brother Leone (Pier Luigi Troglio) is also epileptic but more severely impaired, Mother (Liliana Gerace) is blind, and sister Giulia (Paola Pitagora) has adjustment problems of her own. Only elder brother Augusto (Marino Masé) is "normal," and adjusted to his familial responsibility. Giulia writes a crazy letter to Augusto's girlfriend Lucia (Jeannie McNeil) and appears to have incestuous feelings for all of her brothers. But Alessandro is the dangerous one. Suffering from feelings of inadequacy, he convinces Augusto that his epileptic attacks have stopped, while plotting a deliriously perverse plan to murder all of the "useless" family members -- including himself -- to set Augusto free to marry. Unfortunately, Alessandro has expressed so many crazy notions lately that nobody takes him seriously. Although certain neighbors and locals know better, Alessandro's family seems fairly normal when seen from the outside. Older brother Augusto is a responsible family head. He has a steady girlfriend but is putting off his personal future until he can figure out how to provide for everyone. For now, it's all he can do just to keep siblings Alessandro and Giulia from fighting during dinner. The household is a nasty scene. The central character is Alessandro, a knot of misdirected self-loathing and frustrations. As far as Alessandro is concerned, the family is a psychic disaster. Brother Leone is a congenital idiot and suffers violent epileptic fits; Alessandro still has an occasional seizure of his own but hides that fact from the judgmental Augusto. A poet and a dreamer, Alessandro lies about a lot of other things as well. Sister Giulia shares caretaker duties for brother Leone; the level of intimacy between the three of them is definitely unhealthy, perhaps even incestuous. Augusto tries to be paternal and keep order while his younger brother and sister fight like cats and dogs. Mother sits through all of this, utterly helpless and disconnected. Her only recreation is an occasional visit to the cemetery. If Allessandro isn't truly deranged, he works very hard to give that impression. He plots a murder-suicide pact using the family car and comes very close to carrying it out. Giulia is no measure of normalcy, as she's thrilled by her brother's recklessness on the mountain roads. When Giulia realizes what Alessandro had in mind, she's furious --- but not surprised. All of this is played out like a casual horror film. One would think that Edgar Allan Poe might have emerged from a family similar to this one. Alessandro finds no psychic escape. Augusto is too judgmental and unimaginative. The others are like mirrors of his misery. Completely normal one moment, Alessandro will throw himself into extremes of despair or hilarity for no apparent reason. We watch him with trepidation, wondering when he'll finally flip his lid and do something really terrible. The scary part is that Alessandro's behavior isn't all that different from anybody suffering bouts of emotional depression. The movie has few actual sexual situations but is uncomfortably frank with its relationships: Something fundamentally sick is going on. Both brothers visit prostitutes, an "accepted" outrage to common morality. Augusto reads Alessandro's note threatening to drive the whole family off a cliff, and calmly decides that it's just an attempt to upset him. He seduces his girlfriend instead of raising an alarm. Viewers able to rationalize Alessandro's wild threats will be taken aback when he finally starts carrying them out. The amazing performance of Lou Castel aside, Fists in the Pocket is definitely a director's picture. His story structure is similar to one of those gothic horror films in which a mad relative starts a killing spree over a contested will. But the goal here is not an inheritance. By refusing to fall into any easily defined category, Bellocchio's film invites interpretation. Is this a comment on a decadent, crumbling Italy? Does Alessandro represent a suppressed undercurrent of fascism, or revolution? There is a strong basis to interpret the film on political terms. The miracle of Fists in the Pocket is that it doesn't look like anybody's first film. In the extras we learn that Marco Bellocchio had to scrape his budget together, a statement difficult to believe of the masterfully directed film on view. Bellocchio is equally adept at dramatic dinner table confrontations and expansive exteriors. His elaborate but joyless party scene captures perfectly Alessandro's feeble self-exile. Fists in the Pocket sketches a psychologically complex situation in only a few strokes. Bellocchio's film is not the most pleasant viewing experience, but we can easily imagine it holding a film festival audience spellbound. Criterion's DVD of Fists in the Pocket is a stunning enhanced transfer of this carefully filmed B&W feature. The movie is technically polished for a first feature. Disc producer Curtis Tsui assembles a peerless selection of interviews with key creatives on the movie. Director Bellocchio, editor Silvano Agosti and actors Lou Castel and Paola Pitagora are all still with us. They're eager to talk about the film and its 'shocking' content, as when Castel's Alessandro mocks his mother's body at her funeral. Director (and onetime competitor) Bernardo Bertolucci appears in a separate "afterword" to discuss Bellocchio's achievement. Criterion used to call these analytical interviews "introductions" even though they contain terrible spoilers -- renaming them was a good idea. An original theatrical trailer is a minor work of art in itself. The disc case contains an illustrated booklet with an essay by critic Deborah Young and a printed interview with director Bellocchio. For more information about Fists in the Pocket, visit The Criterion Collection. To order Fists in the Pocket, go to TCM Shopping. by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Opened in Rome in March 1966 as I pugni in tasca. Also known as Fists in the Pocket.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1965

Released in United States August 19, 1990

Released in United States September 17, 1965

Shown at 1965 Locarno Film Festival.

Shown at New York Film Festival September 17, 1965.

Shown in New York City (Cinema Village) as part of Janus Films 40th Anniversary Film Festival December 13, 1996 - January 2, 1997.

Released in United States August 19, 1990 (Shown at Lincoln Center, New York City in the series "A Roman Holiday" August 19, 1990.)

Released in United States 1965

Released in United States 1965 (Shown at 1965 Locarno Film Festival.)

Released in United States September 17, 1965 (Shown at New York Film Festival September 17, 1965.)

Shown at Lincoln Center, New York City in the series "A Roman Holiday" August 19, 1990.