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Tormented by twisted desires, a young man takes drastic measures to rid his grotesquely dysfunctional family of its various afflictions in this astonishing 1965 debut from Marco Bellocchio. Charged by a coolly assured style, shocking perversity, and savage gallows humor, Fists in the Pocket (I pugni in tasca) was a gleaming ice pick in the eye of bourgeois family values and Catholic morality, a truly unique work that continues to rank as one of the great achievements of Italian cinema.
Like a mortar fired into the heart of Italian cinema in the mid-1960s, Fists in the Pocket had an incendiary impact that's still felt today. In addition to catapulting first-time director Marco Bellocchio to instant celebrity (and a degree of infamy) among European cineastes, this audacious drama challenged the foundations of Italian society--the institutions of family and Catholic religion--and ripped them to shreds without mercy. It's essentially the blasphemous, comi-tragic tale of a dysfunctional family suffering from various "afflictions" (blindness, epilepsy, mental instability), and the pent-up rage of epileptic middle son Alessandro (played by then-newcomer and non-professional Swedish actor Lou Castel, dubbed in Italian by Paolo Carlini), whose delicate psyche constantly threatens to snap. When it does, and he secretly murders his blind mother and younger brother (also epileptic), this act of "collective suicide" is intended to restore the surviving family to some semblance of normality... but of course it only sends them deeper into their peculiar extremities of human behavior. Sarcastic, sadistic, and at times grotesquely amusing, Fists in the Pocket divided audiences with its love-it-or-loathe-it, hell-raising depiction of a family in ruins, blasting provincial values to smithereens with hints of matricide, fratricide, and incest that remain provocative several decades later. Still considered by many to be Bellocchio's masterpiece, and bolstered by Castel's fiercely disturbing performance, Fists in the Pocket is the polar opposite of happy-family idealism. Self-righteous viewers are urged to proceed with caution or avoid this film entirely! --Jeff Shannon
On the DVD
In addition to the Criterion Collection's routine inclusion of informative critical essays and interviews in a nicely illustrated booklet, extras on Fists in the Pocket include a 2005 interview with director Bernardo Bertolucci, who describes his initial reaction upon seeing Bellocchio's film in 1965 and its importance in the context of Italian film history. A new Criterion-produced documentary chronicles the origin, production, and legacy of the film through interviews with Bellocchio, Castel, costar Paola Pitagora (who plays Alessandro's psychologically unstable sister), film critic Tullio Kezich, and film editor Silvano Agosti. As with all Criterion releases, the supplements and high-def digital transfer of the film itself are flawless. --Jeff Shannon