Fist of Film: Bellocchio’s Best

For a while, it looked like we had lost Marco Bellocchio. Following his 1965 debut Fists in the Pocket, the Italian philosophy student-turned-director was an indelible presence at the art house. His satires on the hypocrisy of church, state and middle class displayed tremendous filmmaking flair, earning comparisons to Jean Vigo and Max Ophüls. Then his films stopped crossing the Atlantic.

Intellectual bitterness was out of fashion until a new generation of directors like Il Divo Paolo Sorrentino, La meglio gioventu ’s Marco Tullio Giordana and Sabina Guzzanti’s Viva Zapatero took up Bellocchio’s slack. With the Silver Ribbon-winning Vincere, he’s back in theatres. In typical fashion, the love/hate story of Benito Mussolini and his lover Ida Dasler is also the story of how fascism seduced a nation. Here’s five more of his films you need to see.

I pugni in tasca (Fists in the Pocket) (1965)

In a sun-baked estate, a family of epileptics idles away the days driving each other crazy. Alessandro (Lou Castel), however, has a plan to end the generational disease forever. Flaunting his own perverse streak, the 26-year-old Bellocchio got his relatives to fund a film about the ultimate dysfunctional clan, and then shot it in the house where he grew up. The simmering rage impressed many, but Luis Bunuel and Antonioni both gave their acolyte’s first film the thumbs down.

La Cina è vicina (China is Near) (1967)

How do you follow one of the great debuts of the 1960s? By unleashing your deviants into the world. While Prof. Malvezzi breaks into politics on the socialist side, his promiscuous sister Elena (co-scenarist Elda Tattoli) brings the class war into the boudoir. On the outside looking in are a scheming pair of office workers who think marrying into this bunch will be their ticket to the good life. The vicious satire is set to a score by Ennio Morricone.

Nel nome del padre (In the Name of the Father) (1972)

From the other side of May 1968, Bellocchio survey the revolution’s wreckage through a Jesuit academy for moneyed tear-aways. As is the way with these establishments, one rebellious kid (Yves Beneyton) knocks heads with the leather-clad Man. The anticlerical auteur delighted in the church’s decline, but he’s as scathing about its materialist replacement. The patriarchal fetishism anticipates Salo, and padre deserves to be placed alongside If … in the ranks of great school movies.

L’ora di religione (Il sorriso di mia madre) (My Mother’s Smile) (2002)

Bellocchio never stopped tilting at the bourgeois, although his aim often slipped. Three decades on from padre, audiences became reacquainted with him through this atmospheric puzzler. Ernesto (Sergio Castellitto) is the family black sheep. His unwilling complicity is required to make his late mother a saint. The painter also his hands full with an ex-wife who wants their son to receive religious instruction. The machinations are somewhat murky, but the director’s ability to conjure a rancid atmosphere is unchecked.

Buongiorno, notte (Good Morning, Night) (2003)

The Red Brigade’s 1978 kidnapping and execution of Christian Democrat PM Aldo Mori exerted a powerful fascination. Bellocchio first made a documentary about the incident in 1995. In his claustrophobic drama, Maya Sansa and her fellow terrorists rarely leave the apartment. They hold Mori to judgment to an out-there soundtrack of Pink Floyd’s cosmic noodling. The politicians and clerics really deciding Mori’s fate are rarely seen, but the filmmaker’s condemnation is unmistakable. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

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