Saturday, October 17, 2009

Fists In The Pocket (I Pugni In Tasca)

Released May 27, 1968
Directed by Marco Bellocchio
Written by Marco Bellocchio

Cast: Lou Castel, Paola Pitagora, Marino Mase' (later played Lupo in 'The Godfather: Part III'), Liliana Gerace

Watching this movie is something akin to being ten years old and bearing witness as a classmate gets his hide tanned for something that wasn't his fault. It's a trauma that sears itself on the cortex of your brain and you're simply stuck with the wound as much as you might refuse to face it. It's claustrophobic and yet thrilling in the way that it captures the sickness afoot amongst this family of defectives, documentary style. The Criterion Collection edition of Bellocchio's first stab at directing should come with a warning: This movie is visceral and twisted and is probably not your thing unless you're some kind of sicko. These people are fucked up. Do not try this at home.

I'm being dramatic, if not operatic, but a gothic opera of sorts is exactly what it is; some critics even classify it as a horror film, although there's nothing overtly gory about it. The family consists of a blind mother who hoards 'Pro Familia' magazine and seemingly lives only to have her children read to her, a son Augusto (Marino Maste') who is about to leave the family business (chinchilla breeding) to marry Lucia (Jeannie McNeill), the middle son, Ale (Lou Castel), who is epileptic, Giulia (Paola Pitagora, very Amy Winehouse), who has issues, and the youngest son, who is a moron. They're all beautiful but quite fucked to various degrees. The eldest has the greatest chance for any kind of normal, happy life and that chance is the impetus for all that follows.

Ale is basically an id. Lou Castel, the greatest actor you've never heard of, gives a volcanic performance as the middle son who suffers such cranial agony that his sister must hold his head to ease the pain. He is all impulse with no pretense. Given to fits of laughter, he entertains fantasies of impaling himself on a knife and for shits and giggles he shoots rats at night with a shotgun. His mission is to set his brother free by destroying the rest of the family. Giulia, his sister, is already set free by Ale's unfettered anarchism and even harbors a touch of brotherlust for the boy. A magnificent, chilling scene depicts Ale punching the air inches from his mother's face while the blind woman sits impassively wondering where the draft is coming from. I have to wonder if Jack Nicholson prepped for 'The Shining' by studying Castel's mad physicality in 'Fists'.

Ale and Giulia are a heartbreaking pair but Ale's also heartlessly murderous. He throws momma from the cliff to the rocks below as gingerly as though he were taking out the trash. And then he sucks the offending finger. The thrill to be found in Castel's performance is the gestural quality he gives Ale as he tries to negotiate his place in the world. Particularly striking is the way he orders his surroundings by raising his hand to his forehead and bisecting his visual plane as if he's taking aim or dilineating perspective. It's a simple movement but it goes a long way in helping us to find a way to stand in his shoes. That's the hitch in Bellocchio's vision of Ale's black heart: We are him because he *makes* us empathize. He takes us there.

Ennio Morricone's score is typically heartwrenching and Northern Italy has never looked so expansively foreboding. For such a hellish, tunnel-visionary work it is astoundingly nice to look at. Bellocchio's rage at the cheat that is the hand some of us are dealt is rare and worth a trip to the dark side of the moon if only for 105 minutes. And Lou Castel, wherever you are - Bravissimo!

Did I Like It: Yes! Now *this* is a horror film, folks. ****

Performance of Note: Lou Castel should have gone on to iconic superstardom a la James Dean. Paola Patagore (a comedienne by trade!) is unforgettable.

Oscars?: Don't be silly. Oscar voters were frigging themselves with Oliver! schwag that year.

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