Teenager Alessandro doesn't know what he wants, but life in his dead-end Italian town has got him angry, fidgety, and restless -- not a safe state of affairs for somebody who's already mentally on edge. Like Leone, Alessandro is prone to epileptic fits. What's more, with his cool, pragmatic attitude to murder and suicide, he's also a budding serial killer. In his older brother, Augusto (Marion Masé), Alessandro sees a suave (not to mention, sane) go-getter with a girlfriend, and who might have a shot at happiness if he weren't indentured to a clan of cripples and lunatics. Dangerously self-loathing, rattling the bars of his existential cage, Alessandro pledges to make life easier for Augusto by killing off his familial "liabilities." And so it goes, with Alessandro expressing not a shred of regret until his own infirmities begin to threaten the consummation of his scheme.
Forty years since its release, Fists' satirical edge, its skewering of family values and Catholic propriety all feel bracingly raw. From one shot to the next, and from scene to scene, this is the kind of filmmaking possible only when those in front of and behind the camera throw all caution to the wind, and have nothing to lose. It's daringly misbehaved and hilarious as Bellocchio churns up a piping hot cauldron of black and deadpan humor. His cast is equal to the task every step of the way, walking the tightrope of tone to perfectly macabre effect. The powder-keg performance by Lou Castel -- a wet blanket one moment, and a firecracker the next -- brings to mind a young Klaus Kinski. All throughout, the film's gaze is deeply subjective, psychotically becalmed as it regards the action through the prism of Alessandro's twisted logic. Alberto Marrama's camerawork shunts between fluid, almost classical compositions and a jerky, from-the-hip realism that'll keep you off-kilter, unsure what mischief Marrama and editor Silvano Agosti will get into next. Indeed, much of Fists' comedy is realized in the interplay between its camera and editing; the movie is shot and edited not as a comedy, but as a somber tragedy. Hence, the dead seriousness of its execution, twined together by Ennio Morricone's tongue-in-cheek requiem-like score, crystallizes into a perfectly cooled satire.
It's at the level of story development, though, that Bellocchio shows his age. In resolving his tale, the then-26-year-old filmmaker seemed to lack the maturity to raise his anti-social tantrum into anything of sophisticated social and narrative value. By indulging Alessandro's spiraling mayhem, he fails to take fuller advantage of Augusto, the counterweight to Alessandro, and the character with whom we most identify. Had Bellocchio raised Augusto's stock in the story, he'd have had a prime opportunity to address the issue of how amoral must we all become to further our own ends. What is sacred anymore, if not family or religion? Where do we draw the line? Bellocchio missed an opportunity to make a satiric masterpiece by not realizing that it's Augusto's reckoning, not Alessandro's, which concerns us and lies beating within Fists' furious heart.
Aka I Pugni in tasca.
Run time: 105 mins
In Theaters: Monday 27th May 1968
Distributed by: Criterion Collection
Production compaines: Doria
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
IMDB: 7.8 / 10
Director: Marco Bellocchio
Producer: Enzo Doria
Screenwriter: Marco Bellocchio
Starring: Lou Castel as Alessandro, Paola Pitagora as Giulia, Marino Masé as Augusto, Liliana Gerace as Mother, Stefania Troglio as Chambermaid, Jeannie McNeil as Lucia, Mauro Martini as The boy, Gianni Schicchi as Tonino, Alfredo Filippazzi as Doctor
Also starring: Marco Bellocchio