Bellocchio studied at the Centro Sperimentale and at the Slade School in London.
Fists in the Pocket was one of the most striking debuts of the 1960s: a study of the incestuous mesh of a family of epileptics—passionate, neurotic, barbed, and destructive. Epilepsy served Bellocchio, as it had Dostoyevsky, as a sign of social decadence and family claustrophobia, and as the symptom of a distorted psychological nature. The central figure—played brilliantly by Lou Castel—is victim, hero, and destroyer, the life force running riot. Bellocchio has confessed that the film was made to resolve many doubts about himself and his future. Furthermore, its intensity may have grown out of its necessary economy:
If I hadn’t had such a tight budget. Fists in the Pocket would have been a naturalistic film, with a more accurate sociological—that is, social— background. . . .
It would maybe have been after the style of a Renoir or a Becker film, in other words close to the French novelistic tradition which has always fascinated me. They say that hunger sharpens the mind. Since I had to work in a family context, the family became my dramatic space; I found myself probing the relationship between the members of a nuclear cell.
There is no question but that the mood of pathology justified and sustained the trembling, surrealist pitch of the imagery and forced Bellocchio to obtain wounded performances from his cast. The difficulties of a first feature seemed to merge creatively with the pain of a young person.
He made a few shorts before Fists in the Pocket. Unfortunately, his subsequent films have hardly emerged from Italy. Reports of them suggest that they lack the quivering intensity of his first feature.
China Is Near was made at a time when Bellocchio had joined the Italian Communist party. In the Name of the Father has a more comic edge to its study of a cheap Italian boarding school— such as the director himself once attended—that has aroused comparisons with Vigo. Slap the Monster on Page One fell to Bellocchio when Sergio Donati was overtaken by illness: a newspaper exposé, about victimized hippies, set at a time of election.
The Eyes, the Mouth (one of the finest films of the eighties), is an enlargement on Fists in the Pocket, with some scenes from the earlier film, with Lou Castel again as well as a terrific performance from Angela Molina. Hennry IV is Marcello Mastroianni in a version of Pirandello. And in The Devil in the Flesh there was an explicit sexuality.