The sixties were a time of change and possibility, but opportunities depend on circumstance and are not open to everyone; the eldest of four siblings Augusto splits his time between the city where he plans to move permanently when he marries his girlfriend Lucia and the villa in the mountain village where Alessandro, Giulia and Leone live with their disabled mother, none of them working to any great capacity and dependent on Augusto who supports them all.
His family fractious and squabbling, Augusto is resentful but dedicated, frustrated at being caught between two worlds but unable to negotiate a way out but Alessandro has an idea, that instead of Augusto it should be he who takes the family on their visit to the cemetery, allowing Augusto a day off his duties; on the way Alessandro will drive over a ledge, killing them all and freeing Augusto from his obligations.
The debut feature of writer and director Marco Bellocchio who is still working at eighty-three, his most recent film having premiered at Cannes in May 2023, Fists in the Pocket (I pugni in tasca) was released in 1965, an understated but subversive dissection of a disintegrating family, expressing by extension the wider situation in Italy at that time, a nation enjoying post-war prosperity and liberation but still held in a Catholic mindset which frowned upon immoral behaviour.
Augusto (Marino Masé) handsome and successful, his mother (Liliana Gerace) is blind, Leone (Pier Luigi Trogilio) requires constant supervision, Giulia (Paola Pitagora) is indolent and Alessandro (Lou Castel) is epileptic; Augusto believing that will prevent his brother from obtaining a driving licence, in response to failing his test Alessandro simply lies to his family and takes the car anyway though enraged by other drivers who taunt him he holds back from his initial plan to kill them all.
Filmed in the north of Italy, in the city of Piacenza and more rural Bobbio, Fists in the Pocket almost seems to take place in two cultures separated by a gulf of time, the modernity of the city with basement nightclubs of drinking and dancing and the repressed atmosphere of the villa, mother unable to see that which goes on around her and Augusto indifferent to his brother’s confession that he intends to kill the others, eventually working through them one by one instead of all at once.
A black comedy or a bleak satire, for the most part Fists in the Pocket is restrained in presentation and performance, a victim of the stifling atmosphere where black-clad strangers come to mourn family members displayed in their coffins, a pivotal film in Italian cinema now restored on Blu-ray for the Criterion Collection and supported by archive interviews from 2015 with Bellochio, Castel, Pitagora and others and a new interview with film scholar Stefano Albertini.
Fists in the Pocket will be available on Blu-ray from Criterion from Monday 19th June