Fists in the Pocket

(I Pugni in tasca, Marco Bellocchio, Italy, 1965)


The Nouvelle Vague in France inaugurated a string of New Cinema movements throughout the 1960s, celebrated at the time as a Second Wave emerging from countries including Brazil, Canada and Poland.

Marco Bellocchio’s Fists in the Pocket exhibits many of the distinguishing marks of the Italian New Cinema of this period – uninhibited zoom shots, many frantic scenes in cars, freewheeling and lyrical montage segments, a loose, digressive structure of narrative incidents, a mood somewhere between slapstick, introspection and brutality – but it has aged better than, for instance, Bertolucci’s contemporaneous Before the Revolution (Prima Della Revoluzione, 1964).

It is a Crazy Family film. Like many works of the era, this family portrait partakes of the Theatre of the Absurd, with its variously blind, frigid, epileptic or insane characters. It ruthlessly presents a secluded bourgeois clan, with all its hypocrisy, banality and alienation, imploding in on itself.

And yet it also offers, in its many hysterical outbursts and perverse felicities, the delightful flavour of some intensely wished-for personal and political revolution. Like Dusan Makavejev or Jerzy Skolimowski, Bellocchio was – and largely remains today – an anti-authoritarian, attune to the corrosive and explosive force of the irrational. "Madness is a form of rebellion, a cry of freedom", he commented in 1989 – even if that rebellion ultimately fails or is compromised.

At the centre of this time-capsule classic is a young, lithe Lou Castel (resembling Quentin Tarantino!) as a typically indecisive rebel-poet-hero of the ’60s. Castel is amazing, with his near-burlesque body language combining preening narcissism and seething aggro. Like Jean-Pierre Léaud, Castel was inevitably to play the once-glorious rebel, no longer young or vital, in many subsequent films – including Bellocchio’s own The Eyes, The Mouth (1982), where he actually goes to the movies to watch his former self in Fists in the Pocket.

When this film was screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival of 1966, some members of the press labelled it "violent", "depraved" and "sick". Of course, in the era of Trainspotting (1996) or Bad Lieutenant (1992), it looks perfectly tame, even discreet.

But, in an era when some Australians are looking back nostalgically to the sex-and-anarchy ethos of their own libertarian movements, Bellocchio’s film can still pack a wallop – and largely because it cleanly neither celebrates nor condemns the acts of mad revolt which this neglected artist sees as so central and so necessary to the lived dramas of our world.

MORE Bellocchio: Good Morning, Night, Blood of My Blood

© Adrian Martin June 1996

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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