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September 5 - 22, 2014

Marco Bellocchio, the Moral Anarchist

Marco Bellocchio (b. 1939) is one of the most consistent and most adventurous of today’s Italian directors—an achievement all the more remarkable given that he made his feature debut almost fifty years ago. Over those years, he has amassed a body of films that encompasses a large number of original screenplays, adaptations of the likes of Pirandello and Kleist and personal, quasi-autobiographical work. What unifies these films is the beauty and originality of Bellocchio’s images and his unceasing quest to understand the place of the individual in contemporary Italy and contemporary cinema.
After making a few shorts, Bellocchio announced himself with his ferocious first feature, the acclaimed Fists in the Pocket (1965). This caustic and anarchic look at an extremely troubled family launched him instantly to the first ranks of the Italian film scene, alongside Antonioni, Pasolini and Bertolucci. For the next several years, films such as China Is Near and In the Name of the Father found Bellocchio examining the turbulent world of leftist politics and revolutionary dreams with an eye both sympathetic and jaundiced.

During the 1980s and 1990s, under the spell of unorthodox—and, to some, controversial—psychoanalyist Massimo Fagioli, Bellocchio’s emphasis turned to examining the interweaving of family dynamics and sexual desire as they produce and undermine personal identities. Films such as Leap into the Void and Devil in the Flesh create complex allegories of an audacious originality.

More recently, Bellocchio has turned to more straightforward narratives in a number of films that examine Italy’s recent past and its present, from The Nanny to his most recent work, Dormant Beauty. Shifting brilliantly from realist fiction to archival footage to the imagery of dream or fantasy, all within a single film, this recent period has returned Bellocchio to the forefront of contemporary cinema, while combining the lessons learned from both the previous political and allegorical work. What has remained constant is Bellocchio’s searching critique of the institutions that control individuals and organize the flow of power: the army, political parties, schools, the state and its laws, the Church, and the family.

This retrospective is presented with the support of the Istituto Luce Cinecittà and in partnership with the Consulate General of Italy in Boston and Professionisti Italiani a Boston. Special thanks: Camilla Cormanni, Marco Cicala--Cinecittà; Nicola De Santis, Giuseppe Pastorelli, Cinzia Del Zoppo – Consulate General of Italy in Boston; Valentina Cecchi – Professionisti Italiani a Boston; Laura Argento – Cineteca Nazionale, Rome; Michael Horne, Sony.

Film Descriptions by Brittany Gravely and David Pendleton

Friday September 5 at 7pm

Fists in the Pocket (I pugni in tasca)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Lou Castel, Paola Pitagora,
Marino Mase
Italy 1965, 35mm, black and white, 105 min. Italian with English subtitles

At the age of twenty-six Bellocchio discharged a shocking opening salvo upon unprepared Italian audiences—who either vehemently rejected or embraced its blasphemous mutiny only a few years before the 1968 student uprisings. Detailing the pathology within a languishing bourgeois family in the detached, irreverent manner of the nouvelle vague, Fists in the Pocket hypnotizes with a quiet horror that alternately simmers and releases within incestuously close quarters. The stagnation and confusion of the immature siblings and their blind, devout mother—who only leaves the house to visit her husband’s grave—manifests most animatedly in the reckless ambivalence of their loosest cannon, Alessandro. Played with a prescient punk instability by Lou Castel, the epileptic Alessandro attempts to move the family out of their tomb via radical means. Acutely framed by an uncompromising camera and underscored by Ennio Morricone’s spectral tracks, a tormented tenderness lies just beneath Alessandro’s fulfillment of what may be their collective, desperate wishes.

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Friday September 5 at 9pm

Devil in the Flesh (Diavolo in corpo)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Maruschka Detmers, Federico Pitzalis, Anita Laurenzi
Italy/France 1986, 35mm, color, 115 min. Italian with English subtitles

Both the original 1921 novel by Raymond Radiguet and the first film version by Claude Autant-Lara in 1946—featuring a teenage boy’s affair with a the wife of a French soldier at war—were scandalous for their frank and seditious treatment of sex and politics. Relocating the story to modern-day Italy, Bellocchio maintained the shock value by featuring explicit sexual content—lensed by Tarkovsky cinematographer Guiseppe Lanci—and integrated a more contemporary political complexity. Weakly attempting to reign in her voracious desires and a deep psychological dissonance, the beautiful, reckless Giulia seems as imprisoned as her fiancé—whose terrorist actions contributed to his arrest as well as the death of Giulia’s father—by the circumscriptions of a privileged life. While her fiancé renounces his beliefs in order to live a “normal” life, and her psychoanalyst simply diagnoses her as “crazy,” a new young lover finally promises an honest, unconditional expression of love—its own form of radical rebellion. Upon the film’s release, its raw eroticism threatened to overwhelm the subtler psychological entanglements which come to fully unravel by the film’s quietly revelatory close.

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Saturday September 6 at 7pm

Good Morning, Night (Buongiorno, notte)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Maya Sansa, Luigi Lo Cascio, Roberto Herlitzka
Italy 2003, 35mm, color, 107 min. Italian with English subtitles

By turns sober, elegiac, and despairing, Good Morning, Night is a highly fictionalized retelling of the kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro, president of Italy’s Christian Democratic Party, by the Red Brigade in the spring of 1978. Bellocchio creates a female protagonist, a revolutionary named Chiara, who is part of the small group holding Moro prisoner. Seen through her eyes as she comes to question her involvement in the group’s actions, the film’s look back at the dreams of the Italian and European Left in the 20th century becomes a repudiation of revolutionary violence from what Bellocchio has called his “anarchic yet peaceful” perspective.

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Saturday September 6 at 9pm

Let’s Discuss (Discutiamo, discutiamo)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Marco Bellocchio, Sergio Elia, Roberto Marigliano
Italy 1969, 35mm, color, 24 min. Italian with English subtitles

Even at the period of his life when Bellocchio was closest to Italy’s radical left, he couldn’t help satirizing the student movement in this Brechtian sketch made for the episode film Amore e rabbia. The filmmaker himself plays a professor lecturing about aesthetics to a lecture hall full of bored students before being interrupted by a group of Maoist radicals.

Followed by

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

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Yves Beneyton, Renato Scarpa, Piero Vida
Italy 1971, DCP, color, 83 min. Italian with English subtitles

In the spirit of Zéro de conduite (1933) and If…(1968), In the Name of the Father follows the descent into chaos of a Catholic boys’ boarding school in the late 1950s. While a new student sows discontent among the boys with skillful manipulation, the school’s working staff plans a strike. The success of each rebellion depends on the other, but such solidarity is in short supply. The film was inspired by Bellocchio’s memories of the boredom and resentment of his own school days, infused with the rage and audacity of the 1960s student movement. Bellocchio’s theatrical mise-en-scene both underscores and enlivens the film’s pessimism. We will present Bellocchio’s recent re-editing of the film, which shortened it by more than 20 minutes, thereby heightening the work’s satirical sense of the grotesque.

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Sunday September 7 at 5pm

Henry IV (Enrico IV)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Marcello Mastroianni, Claudia Cardinale, Leopoldo Trieste
Italy 1984, DCP, color, 86 min. Italian with English subtitles

With its fluid movement through time and space as well as a playful, disturbed and intelligent protagonist whose eccentric behavior subverts social custom, the 1921 Luigi Pirandello play naturally found its way into Bellocchio’s adept hands. A trickster even within a band of tricksters, the intense young “Henry” baffles his fellow Renaissance reenactors—and eventually has a psychological breakdown. Years later, holed up in a cavernous castle, he still lives under the delusion that he is the excommunicated Henry IV, the 11th-century Holy Roman Emperor, and is surrounded by a coterie of players who keep him imprisoned in delusion, yet liberated from the chaos and responsibilities of modern reality. Masterfully played with restrained madness by Marcello Mastroianni, Henry lives perpetually within a shoddily produced tragic comedy—with its own rules and anachronisms within anachronisms. Meanwhile, the group of friends who instigated his dementia are suddenly set on curing him, and enter this hall of socio-psychological mirrors where the protections of identity, self-delusion, masks and roles turn inside out. By the postmodern conclusion, Henry and his various collaborators share in the experience of the endless simulacra where perhaps the true self has finally been lost.

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Sunday September 7 at 7pm

My Mother’s Smile (Il sorriso di mia madre) AKA The Religion Hour (L'ora di religione)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Sergio Castellitto, Jacqueline Lustig, Chiara Conti
Italy 2002, 35mm, color, 105 min. Italian with English subtitles

When Ernesto, a famous artist and avowed atheist learns that his late mother is to be sainted, he is forced into acknowledging his own unexamined beliefs as well as the dark hypocrisies within outmoded religious rituals. Alluding to the mysterious smile of a certain secular saint of art, Bellocchio treats the story as Ernesto may his own paintings, with a Caravaggio light and a surreal, slightly defiant movement in and out of the old world and the new, in and out of reality and dream. The mother’s unlikely canonization illuminates the far reaches of Catholicism within Italian society and Ernesto’s own psyche, setting off an array of desperate reactions, from a contrived marketing campaign to an awkward duel. Realizing his family’s need of their own saint extends beyond the spiritual into more pragmatic ideas of political, economic, social and emotional protection, Ernesto attempts to create his own path to transcendence and compassion through love. The validation, contradiction and unidentified otherworldly experiences he receives in return sublimely complicate Bellocchio’s open-ended, agnostic inquisition into the human and the divine.

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Monday September 8 at 9:15pm

Victory March (Marcia trionfale)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Michele Placido, Franco Nero,
Italy 1976, 35mm, color, 120 min. Italian with English subtitles

Bellocchio’s corrosive portrait of life in an army barracks presents military discipline as a process of depersonalization and thus anticipates Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The film follows a new recruit through basic training, with a focus on the strange triangle that forms between him, his captain and the captain’s wife. The captain’s wholehearted investment in making a soldier of the recruit, at all costs, mirrors his mistreatment of his wife due to his paranoid jealousy. Bellocchio here abandons the satire and Brechtian distanciation of his earlier work to present vividly a world of psychosexual conflict and hidden depths, reminiscent at times of Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye.

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Friday September 12 at 7pm

The Nanny (La balia)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Fabrizio Bentivoglio, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi, Maya Sansa
Italy 1999, 35mm, color, 109 min. Italian with English subtitles

Rebellious women permeate Bellocchio’s work, especially since 1980, and the title character of The Nanny is a prime example. She is an illiterate young servant who works as the wet nurse for the child of a wealthy family after her lover is jailed for subversive activity. Based on a story by Pirandello, the film is set at the turn of the 20th century against a backdrop of street protest, but at its heart is the simple subtlety with which the presence of the nanny upends the household of her employers, a cold psychiatrist and his hysterical wife, by embodying an alternative to their rigid rationalism. The Nanny also inaugurates a loose trilogy of films about the intersection of the domestic and the political in 20th-century Italy, followed by Good Morning, Night and Vincere. Print courtesy of Cinecitta Nazionale.

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Friday September 12 at 9:15pm

Sorelle Mai

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Elena Bellocchio, Donatella Finocchiaro
Italy 2010, 35mm, color & b/w, 105 min. Italian with English subtitles

In recent years, Bellocchio has led filmmaking workshops each summer in his hometown of Bobbio. For much of the past decade, the director’s own contribution to the workshop consisted in making short films about a girl named Elena, played by his daughter Elena Bellocchio, and her family, made up of a mixture of actors and of other members of the Bellocchio family. The culmination of this fascinating semi-autobiographical work—which in many ways prefigures Linklater’s Boyhood—is the feature film Sorelle Mai, in which Elena grows from five to thirteen, raised by her mother, a busy actress, and her uncle. Just as Bellocchio’s films ceaselessly interweave the personal and the political, here different fictional registers blend, with snippets of the filmmaker’s past work serving as fascinating commentary on the life of this unconventional family, even as Sorelle Mai itself acts as a valentine to the beauty of the Emilia-Romagna region. Print courtesy of Cinecitta Nazionale.

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Saturday September 13 at 7:00pm

Leap into the Void (Salto nel vuoto)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Michel Piccoli, Anouk Aimee, Michele Placido
Italy 1980, 35mm, color, 120 min. Italian with English subtitles

Leap into the Void features one of those deeply dysfunctional wealthy families that appear in Bellocchio’s films with some regularity. Here that family is made up of a middle-aged brother and sister who have always lived together and who are so enmeshed that the director has described the film as “the story of a couple.” This (non-sexual) couple is haunted by the shadow of madness, which threatens the sister as Leap into the Void begins. She begins to slowly cure herself by turning her back on the past—hence the film’s title—but her journey toward the light seems to cast her brother into darkness. With Leap into the Void, Bellocchio introduces a new subtlety into his visual style; the film “murmurs,” as he puts it, breaking with the grotesquerie and expressionism of his earlier work. Few major events occur onscreen; rather, the spectator is asked to notice and decode small signs. Print courtesy of Cinecitta Nazionale.

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Saturday September 13 at 9:30pm

Slap the Monster on Page One (Sbatti il mostro in prima pagina)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Gian Maria Volonte, Fabio Garriba, Carla Tato
Italy/France 1972, 35mm, color, 90 min. Italian with English subtitles

Like Leone’s spaghetti Westerns, Slap the Monster on Page One comes from the fascinating intersection between genre cinema and Italian political filmmaking of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The film tells the pulpy tale of a right-wing newspaper editor who labors to frame an anarchist for rape and murder in an attempt to swing an upcoming election. Bellocchio keeps the action moving briskly—a rather complicated plot speeds by in an hour and a half. Welcoming the chance to experiment with working in a more mainstream vein than the art cinema in which he started, Bellocchio stepped in at the last minute to take over from the film’s intended director who had fallen ill. Slap the Monster does include some recognizably Bellocchio-ish touches, such as the insertion of news footage of political demonstrations into the fictional world of the film. Nevertheless, the experience of making the film sealed Bellocchio’s decision to never again to work in a commercial mode and also initiated his drift from directly political cinema. Print courtesy of Cinecitta Nazionale.

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Sunday September 14 at 5pm

The Prince of Homburg (Il Principe di Homburg)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Andrea Di Stefano, Barbora Bobulova, Toni Bertorelli
Italy 1993, 35mm, color, 90 min. Italian with English subtitles

Heinrich von Kleist’s German play from 1811 is on the surface a tragedy about the conflict between freedom and law: the title character mistakes his orders on the battlefield yet, in so doing, carries the day. Nevertheless he must be punished for insubordination. But the play’s greatness stems from Kleist’s decision to complicate this conflict by making his prince prey to confusion between dream and waking life. The juxtaposition of these two conflicts—the individual versus authority, reality versus fantasy—makes the play prime material for Bellocchio. The film’s long takes serve to communicate the protagonist’s confusion, as dreamlike events unfold in real time. Bellocchio described his admiration for the title character thus: “The hero is above all he who seeks and finds the dimension of the unconscious.” Print courtesy of Cinecitta Nazionale.

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Sunday September 14 at 7pm

The Wedding Director (Il regista di matrimoni)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Sergio Castellitto, Donatella Finocchiaro, Sami Frey
Italy/France 2006, 35mm, color, 96 min. Italian with English subtitles

The wit that runs throughout Bellocchio’s films is given free reign in this self-reflexive comedy. Assigned to film an adaptation of Manzoni’s classic The Betrothed, a besieged director flees to Sicily in search of inspiration. There he happens upon a spirited young woman being forced into an arranged marriage by her father—a situation parallel to the 1827 novel he’s adapting. As life seems to imitate art, our protagonist must ask himself whether he’s playing the hero or the villain. This semi-farcical plot provides Bellocchio fertile ground for musing on the weight of history and tradition in a nation whose past is glorious but whose future is uncertain, a description that fits not only Italy (and the US) but cinema as well. Print courtesy of Cinecitta Nazionale.

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Monday September 15 at 7pm


Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Giovanna Mezzogiorno, Filippo Timi, Fausto Russo
Italy 2009, 35mm, color, 128 min. Italian with English subtitles

Bellocchio ventures down a dark alley of Italy’s unofficial history through the story of Ida Dalser, a lover and supporter of Il Duce when he was an ambitious, unorthodox socialist. Unlike the standard historical recreation, Vincere is an intimate, torrential—at times operatic—drama from the point of view of one of Mussolini’s first victims. Drifting seamlessly from actual archival footage to the passionate lovers caught up in revolution, the film swiftly shifts its focus to the abandoned wife who gave him all of her possessions as well as his first son. As Mussolini’s power grows, hers diminishes, yet her voice only grows louder and more determined, demanding that she and her child be officially acknowledged. Its searing exploration of power, desire, defiance and submission is punctuated by revealing scenes of audiences in movie theaters—indicating the burgeoning role of the motion picture in the political and emotional life of a society, Bellocchio’s own audience pointedly included. Print courtesy of Cinecitta Nazionale.

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Sunday September 21 at 7pm

Dormant Beauty (Bella addormentata)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Toni Servillo, Isabelle Huppert, Alba Rohrwacher
Italy/France 2012, DCP, color, 103 min. Italian with English subtitles

A controversial and divisive debate in Italy in 2009, the right-to-die case of Eluana Englaro figures as the catalyst around which Bellocchio’s fictional lives divide or unite over painful life and death quandaries. In a vegetative state for seventeen years, Eluana’s case consumes all of the media, government and Vatican time as profound questions are either avoided or deliberated by those wrestling with their own existential crises. A senator attempts to vote his conscience, a man and woman on opposite sides of the controversy fall in love, an actress forgoes her career and her relationships in eternal anticipation of her comatose daughter’s resurrection, and an atheist doctor commits himself to an equally dubious cause. Through a vivid, intricate tangle of voices public and private, Bellocchio perceptively puzzles over the various mechanisms, obligations and devotions which keep everyone delicately balanced upon a frighteningly vast continuum of life. Print courtesy of Emerging Pictures

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Monday September 22 at 9pm

China Is Near (La Cina è vicina)

Directed by Marco Bellocchio. With Glauco Mauri, Elda Tattoli, Paolo Graziosi
Italy 1967, 35mm, black and white, 107 min. Italian with English subtitles

Little-seen today in the US, Bellocchio’s second feature secured his place at the forefront of Italian cinema in the late 1960s by adding politics to a savage look at the nuclear family rivaling that of Fists in the Pocket. A young man from a prominent family in a small town fancies himself a Maoist and so sets out to undermine his older brother’s run for office as a Socialist. He finds unlikely and unwitting allies in an ambitious working-class couple who ingratiate themselves into the family with disruptive results that have drawn comparisons to Losey’s The Servant. The film’s black humor and wild satire show Bellocchio engaged in a critique of the pretensions of and divisions within the Italian Left at the time. Pauline Kael, a fervent Bellocchio supporter, found in China is Near “the most fluid directorial technique since Max Ophuls.” Print courtesy of Cinecitta Nazionale

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Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700