From the Aisles of the Cinematheque: All in the Family with Marco Bellocchio

In support of the two-day celebration of the films of Marco Bellocchio this weekend at Facets, I offer some biographical background on the least-known director of the New Italian Cinema. If you have never seen a film by Bellocchio, the 35mm prints in this three-film mini-fest will show of the director’s work to its best advantage.
In the previous post, Bellocchio was placed in the context of the New Italian Cinema, an era born of the politics and social discontent of the 1960s and 1970s. Directors as diverse as Bernardo Bertolucci, the Taviani Brothers, and Francesco Rosi made up this loosely knit group, and their films shared in common a tendency to explore, examine, or escape from the socio-political upheaval of the era. [See below.] While Bellocchio’s films are often interpreted commentary on the failure of Italian social institutions, particularly that of marriage and the family, they also reveal aspects of the director’s personal life. In other words, pointed political criticism does not preclude personal revelation. (continued)
Marco Bellocchio was born on November 9, 1939, in Piacenza, Italy, the capital of the northern province of Piacenza. The son of a lawyer and a schoolteacher, he grew up in the provincial bourgeois lifestyle that he would later denounce in his films. A strict Catholic upbringing gave him a lifelong hatred of religious hypocrisy, particularly the impact of religious teaching on the repression of natural human desires. Bellocchio’s full-frontal assault on conventional bourgeois morality with its rules, restrictions, and rigidity was a reaction and rebellion to his background, but it also resonated with others of his generation, giving his point of view a relevancy for the times.

Bellocchio is credited with launching the New Italian Cinema with his debut feature, Fists in the Pocket, in 1965, but his second film, China Is Near (La Cina e Vicina, 1967) won several awards, making him the rising star of the movement. However, in 1968, he joined the leftist Communist Union and renounced the conventions of mainstream films to participate in a politically militant cinema. He also became involved with a film cooperative, which produced propaganda films. Bitter and confrontational, his films from this period, such as Paola (1969), depict human relationships as representative of class struggle and human interactions as colored by politics.

During the 1970s, Bellocchio returned to mainstream cinema, eventually pulling away from Marxism and embracing psychoanalysis. He decided that artists must be free in thought and that blind obedience to the party line of any political group adversely affects artistic freedom. Distancing himself from political ideology, while not rejecting it, he began to explore the complexity of human relationships. The anger in his films—fueled by personal and political issues—disappeared and was replaced by themes of forgiveness and reconciliation, though his characters don’t always find emotional satisfaction or their happy endings.

Despite Bellocchio’s shift in interest from Marxism to psychoanalysis, his films still reflect the hypocrisies within the bourgeois lifestyle and still posit the family as an obstacle to personal development. He continues to explore and exploit explicit sex within the confines of the feature film, and his preference for nonlinear narratives is revealed in his pursuit of dense, dream-like atmospheres and his fondness for merging past and present. Most of all, Bellocchio suggests through his films that sexuality, repression, and madness are connected like links in a chain, and the only sane solution is rebellion against the norm.

Fists in the Pocket (I Pugni in Tasca)

Bellocchio’s angry-young-man debut, which plays Saturday, December 18 at 3:00 pm, has lost little of its bite or scathing humor in the decades since he made it. Lou Castel stars as Sandro, a young man born into a family afflicted with seizures and assorted personal issues. Only Sandro’s older brother is free of the malady, so Sandro decides to do his brother—and the world—a favor by killing off his family members. Though anarchic in tone and attitude, Fists in the Pocket reveals the skill of filmmaker in control of the medium. Dominated by close-ups—a technique that exploits the audience’s sense of identification and sympathy—the film’s style is nerve-wracking as is its unsettling score by a young Ennio Morricone.
The Conviction (La Condanna)

This psycho-sexual drama, which plays Saturday, December 18 at 5:00 pm, was produced later in Bellocchio’s career and reveals the influence of his personal experiences with psychoanalysis on his films. Cowritten with his analyst Massimo Fagioli, The Conviction centers on the alleged rape of a student by a professor while the two were accidentally locked in a museum (how’s that for symbolism!). The trial of the professor provides a forum for unconventional views of sexual power, pleasure, and consent. Maria Schneider, who shocked the world with her sex scenes with Brando in Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, costars in a secondary role as La Contadino, or “the Peasant.”

The Nanny (La Balia)

Facets’ tribute to Bellocchio wraps up Sunday afternoon at 3:00 pm with the 1999 film The Nanny, which is the director’s interpretation of melodrama. Bellocchio returns to his favorite theme, the bourgeois family as an institution that suffocates authentic emotions and healthy relationships. Here, the director expands his theme by using it to expose social contradictions in early 20th-century Italy, including rich vs. poor, men vs. women, and nature vs. nurture. The title character is a poor woman hired to care for a newborn baby by a stern psychiatrist and his wife, who suffers from postpartum depression. The 35mm print of The Nanny should make the lush cinematography of Giuseppe Lanci stand out.

–Susan Doll

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2 thoughts on “From the Aisles of the Cinematheque: All in the Family with Marco Bellocchio

  1. He is the unsung GREAT director with a pretty astonishing, always intelligent body of work. FISTS IN THE POCKET, which is a pretty great film, is closer to the neo-realist tradition, but Bellocchio's serious interest in psychoanalysis (in such films as "Leap Into the Void"), politics (the amazing film about the kidnapping of Aldo Moro from the terrorists' viewpoint), and his

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