Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Fists in the Pocket (1965)

It took about half the movie for me to adjust to this film's wavelength, but it was worth it. The initial scenes (indeed, the first half-hour) is a strange affair, full of disconnected scenes and performances that seem to work an angle removed from where they should. In particular, the first dinner scene with the gathered family, with his fighting feet under the table and the cat who keeps jumping on it, is a miniature mental breakdown externalized as celluloid. Gradually, things started to make sense -- the discombobulation is important as an expression of Ale, the lead character, and his worldview. Afflicted with epilepsy and plagued by paranoid and homicidal fantasies, he's a classic sociopath; thus, much of the world doesn't make enough sense for him to process. His delusions lead him to rage against everything he knows; this rage is matched by director Marco Bellocchio's vicious attacks on Italian society. I see the matriarch of this dysfunctional family as representative of Bellocchio's perception of the Italian government, ancient and outdated and blind to the suffering of her children; as such, her death is followed by Ale and his sister Giulia pitching and burning furniture, clothing and other such accoutrements (destruction of the old ways!). Bellocchio's approach to Ale, though, is more complicated. At times, he sees him with sympathetic eyes; Ale's rages are often depicted as a struggle against being swallowed up by the shadows in which he's forced to grow up (parents, siblings, God, government) -- his attitudes and afflictions make him an eternal outsider, and at no time is Bellocchio's film more effective than when deliniating this. (The shadow-heavy party scene, in which Ale tries to assimilate into society only to find that society likes him on the margins, is a work of quiet brilliance.) At other times, though, Bellocchio seems aligned against Ale, his fits marking his anger as aimless and destructive. Is Bellocchio saying something about the nature of revolution (i.e. if you're going to overthrow the old system, you'd better have something to replace it with)? Whatever his intentions, they result in a film that, despite its roughness, feels alive and kicking like few films do; the last scene has Ale dancing like mad to opera music, which seems appropriate.

Grade: B


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