October 2012, arsenal cinema

Retrospective Marco Bellocchio


Marco Bellocchio (*1939) is one of Italy's most important and prolific filmmakers. Since his furious debut I PUGNI IN TASCA (Fists in the Pocket), which established him in the mid 1960s as a leading representative of contemporary Italian cinema, he has directed nearly 50 shorts, features and documentaries. His hugely multi-faceted oeuvre encompasses vehement direct attacks on the bourgeois institutions of the family, the state and the church, uncompromising indictments of power structures and relations in politics, the media and society, complex, introspective studies of the emotionally damaged, cinematic examinations of psychological processes, appropriations of literary sources and precise documentary works, Often seen as a tireless wanderer between a wide range of different genres, subjects and forms of production and a experimenter and communicator of concepts, Bellocchio's work confronts us with anarchy and rebellion, desire and passion, the subconscious, the world of dreams and the realm of the shades. In doing so, he places the mental state of his protagonists – rebels, dreamers and outsiders played by outstanding actors such as Lou Castel, Laura Betti, Sergio Castellitto, Giovanna Mezzogiorno, to name just a few – in direct relationship with their surroundings, connecting the private and the public, and allowing the personal to coalesce with the flow of historical and political time. Yet Bellocchio doesn't just bring together different narratives or layer them on top of one another in individual films, but also allows characters, locations, moods and ideas from the various films made over his decade-long career to enter into dialogue with one another. Discovering the delicate connecting lines that criss-cross Marco Bellocchio's impressive oeuvre is just one of the many delights that we and the Italian Cultural Institute invite you to partake in this October. We are particularly happy to be able to welcome Marco Bellocchio to Arsenal on October 5 and 6 to present his latest film BELLA ADDORMENTATA (2012), which received its world premiere just days before we went to press, as well as his first feature length work I PUGNI IN TASCA.

BELLA ADDORMENTATA (Dormant Beauty, Italy/France 2012, 5.10.,  screening attended by Marco Bellocchio) Bellocchio's most recent film, which was shown at the Venice Film Festival at the start of September, is based on a real life euthanasia case, which was discussed in heated terms across the entire political spectrum and all sections of society in Italy in 2009: the father of a coma patient was, after a trial lasting several years, given permission by a Milan court to turn off his daughter's life support following a 17-year coma. The film weaves together four stories about life, death and love, which allow the different standpoints in the conflict to collide in illustrative and intransigent fashion. A complex look at the state of Italian society which refuses to trade in simple answers or ostensibly clear demarcations.

I PUGNI IN TASCA (Fists in the Pocket, Italy 1965, 6.10., screening attended by Marco Bellocchio & 9.10.) Bellocchio's furious debut was nothing less than a direct attack on post-war Italian society, its rigidly bourgeois moral values, its hollow conventions and hypocritical piety. Produced at a considerable distance from the official film industry and realized with the simplest of means, the film continues to impress now as it did then. It is the family, the nucleus of social and societal wrongs, that is dissected in unyielding fashion here. A widowed mother lives with her mentally and physically damaged children in an upper class villa, their lives dictated by narcissism, lethargy and melancholy. Alessandro's (Lou Castel) attempt to break open the oppressive structures takes on grotesquely destructive proportions.

LA CINA È VICINA (China is Near, Italy 1967, 7. & 19.10.) False revolutionaries populate the socialist party in this political satire, having been recruited both from the country gentry and the working class, these class opponents first coming together on the local political stage before swiftly moving on to each other's beds. The protagonists of this circular narrative are rich siblings Vittorio and Elena and the loyal, proletariat socialist Carlo and his girlfriend Giovanna. The social reconfiguration is only of limited success, as the socialist ideal becomes a plaything of ambition, hypocrisy and party politicking. It is only the siblings' younger brother, an altar boy and Maoist, who retains any political foresight. 

DISCUTIAMO, DISCUTIAMO (Italy 1968, 7.10.) Bellocchios's contribution to the anthology film "Amore e rabbia" (1968): a role play among a group of students in Rome allows the interdependence of repression and violence and the impotent rage of the 1968 student opposition to become tangible. The episode conveys an impression of "the boundaries, the lack of order, the reality and vitality of the first phase of the student movement" (Goffredo Fofi).

NEL NOME DEL PADRE (In the Name of the Father, Italy 1971, 8. & 31.10.) Three years after the beginning of the student revolts, Bellocchio set his angry indictment of the authoritarian institutions of church and state in a devout Catholic boarding school for Italian high society's problem sons. Angelo (Yves Beneyton) is new at the school but soon rebels against the clerical teaching staff and the repressive school head. In the slipstream of a strike by the school staff, he and his schoolmates also try out an insurgency. Yet this soon solidifies into new hierarchies, turning the rebel into a malicious demagogue who goes on to establish a new system of fear. We are showing Bellocchio's director's cut, a re-edited version 15 minutes shorter than the original.

ABASSO IL ZIO (Italy 1961, 8. & 9.10.) Four children spend an afternoon at a run-down cemetery. They watch lizards, smoke cigarettes and start throwing around gravestones and statues.

SBATTI IL MOSTRO IN PRIMA PAGINA (Slap the Monster on Page One, Italy/France 1973, 10. & 28.10.) The Milan election campaign is being conducted by all possible means: left-wing demonstrators attack the editorial board of a conservative tabloid newspaper that is controlled from outside, whereupon the chief editor (Gian Maria Volonté) launches a smear campaign against an anarchist accused of having committed a sex killing. When a reporter tracks down the true perpetrator, he is sidelined until after the election. A fast-paced thriller about manipulation and power relations in political and media circles. 

SALTO NEL VUOTO (A Leap in the Dark, Italy/France 1979, 10. & 30.10.) Anouk Aimée and Michel Piccoli play siblings Marta and Ponticelli, who live together in a relationship based on mutual emotional dependence. He is a coroner, she leads the household and sinks into a deep depression because of the emptiness of her life. As part of a case, Ponticelli meets a young actor accused of having driven his girlfriend to suicide. Simultaneously enlivened by and fearful of the possibility of freedom, Ponticelli introduces him to his sister. A radically dark description of desolate family structures carried by two outstanding actors, who received the prizes for best actor and best actress respectively at the Cannes Film Festival.

GLI OCCHI, LA BOCCA (The Eyes, the Mouth, Italy/France 1982, 11.10.) Iciness both inside and out: Giovanni (Lou Castel), a rebellious actor, returns to the house of his childhood on New Year's Eve after a long absence: his family, stuck in the past, are burying Giovanni’s twin brother, who has committed suicide, a fact that the fragile mother (Emmanuelle Riva) keeps secret. Giovanni's attempts to get closer to his brother’s life lead to him having to grapple with himself.  

VACANZE IN VAL TREBBIA (Italy 1980, 12.10.) A series of notes and comments on the customs of the Bellocchio family's summer holidays, which are usually spent in the Trebbia valley. Friends come to visit, parties are celebrated, plays are put on, dips are taken in the river. A film of memories and moods, of confrontation and debate – the psychogram of a family. "We find ourselves within the unstable boundaries that separate cinéma vérité and fantasy run riot. When it is unleashed, we are reminded of sequences from the unforgettable Partie de campagne by Jean Renoir ." (Callisto Cosulich)

SORELLE MAI (Italy 2010, 12.10., with an introduction by Giovanni Spagnoletti & 27.10.) Six episodes in the story of a family, recorded over a period of ten years (1999–2008). Diverse members of the Bellocchio family are in front of the camera, yet only seldom playing themselves, while various participants from Bellocchio's "Fare Cinema" workshops are in action behind the camera. An experimental project on many different levels, its episodes revolve around the young Elena (Elena Bellocchio), her mother (Donatella Finocchiaro), the mother's brother Pier Giorgio (Pier Giorgio Bellocchio) and the two unmarried aunts (Letizia Bellocchio and Maria Luisa Bellocchio), who employ family anecdotes to comment on the plot in graceful, wryly humorous fashion.

BUONGIORNO, NOTTE (Good Morning Night, Italy 2003, 13. & 19.10.) Based on a report by one of the members of the Brigate Rosse involved in the kidnap of Italian president Aldo Moro in 1978, Bellocchio reconstructs the Christian Democrat politician's 55-day captivity and final murder. The chamber drama focuses on the conflicts among the kidnappers as well as the disputes with their prisoner Moro (Roberto Herlitzka). It is in the character of Chiara (Maya Sansa), the only woman among the kidnappers, in which the different social attitudes and trends of the time makes themselves felt, history and present overlap and the irreconcilable contradiction between intention and reality is revealed. 

ENRICO IV (Henry IV, I 1984, 14. & 23.10.) An eccentric nobleman (Marcello Mastroianni) has lived for the past 20 years in the belief that he is the young Henry IV, with a whole host of employees acting out life at court for him at a medieval castle. The cause of his condition can be traced back to a shock suffered during a masked ball. Under the leadership of a psychiatrist disguised as a monk, a group of friends and relations travels to the castle, including his past lover (Claudia Cardinale) and her now adult daughter, in order to bring Henry to reason via shock therapy. But it is not just Henry who is confronted with reality, fantasy and past memories in this refuge hermetically sealed off from the outside world. A concise film adaptation of the Pirandello play of the same name.

IL SOGNO DELLA FARFALLA (The Butterfly's Dream, Italy/France/Switzerland 1994, 14.10.) A existential drama revolving around young actor Massimo (Thierry Blanc), who regards language as a superfluous convention and hasn't spoken since the age of 14, only breaking his silence on the theater stage. By putting on a highly personal play written by Massimo’s mother (Bibi Andersson), a theater director attempts to bring him to speak offstage too. An attempt to adapt psychological theory for the cinema regarded by Bernardo Bertolucci as one of the most beautiful Italian films of all time. The script was written by Italian psychoanalyst by Massimo Fagioli, who enjoyed a long period of collaboration with Bellocchio and who had already written the script for "La Condanna" (1990) several years previously.

DIAVOLO IN CORPO (Devil in the Flesh, Italy/France 1986, 15. & 22.10.) Bellocchio's controversially received Radiguet adaptation begins with a complex choreography of gazes, spaces and protagonists. Young Giulia (Maruschka Detmers), who is waiting for her fiancée, in prison awaiting trial for being a supporter of the Red Brigades, and Andrea, a psychiatrist's son about to graduate from high school, becomes witnesses to an attempted suicide. The emotional shock of the start forms the basis of the passionate amour fou that rapidly develops between the two of them, whose boundaries are more delineated by the inscrutability of desire and insanity than family power relations or the political climate.

LA VISIONE DEL SABBA (Italy/France 1987, 16.10.) Dreams and reality, inquisition and trial report, the Middle Ages and the present – Bellocchio constructs a story of progressive isolation on two different levels. What starts off as an interesting case for Davide (Daniel Ezralow) – he is supposed to make a report on a young women (Béatrice Dalle) purported to be a witch – leads him to become more and more immersed in visions and dreams. "The camera dances, swings, circles and blurs, allowing everything to dissolve before our eyes before coming back together in altered form. A witch's Sabbath in the form of a dance is at the heart of this choreography of dissolution." (Michael Althen)

IL PRINCIPE DI HOMBURG (The Prince of Homburg, Italy 1997, 16. & 24.10.) "A dream, what else!" The final words in this cinematic exploration of Heinrich von Kleist’s play of the same name does not just indicate the importance Bellocchio gives to the relationship between dream and reality in both Kleist’s work and his own film, but also serves as a final, affirmative echo of this dark, shadowy nocturne all bathed in blue light. At times somnambulant and at times lost in dreams, the Prince of Homburg once again ignores military conduct during an important battle. Although this leads to victory, a court martial rules that his disobedience must be punished by death. This dream-like costume drama carries out "dream work against principle" (Bert Rebhandl).

L'ORA DI RELIGIONE (My Mother's Smile, Italy 2002, 18. & 25.10.) Ernesto (Sergio Castellitto) is a successful artist and confirmed atheist. He thus finds the news that his mother is to be made into a saint suitably grotesque, a process previously concealed from him by his family and in which he is now expected to play an active role. After leading his life in a largely passive manner, he now stumbles into a variety of surreal encounters and absurd situations linked to his mother’s canonization which also end up challenging Ernesto’s memories, views and convictions. A quiet, incredulous sense of humor runs through this multilayered story of belief, memory and family.

IL REGISTA DI MATRIMONI (The Wedding Director, Italy/France 2006, 18. & 26.10.) A director (Sergio Castellitto) returns to Sicily after a series of personal and professional disappointments. There he meets a variety of highly idiosyncratic people and is given the job of making a film about the wedding of a Sicilian princess, with whom he promptly falls in love. When the father of the bride (Sami Frey) recognizes the director’s emotional interests, it is soon no longer clear just who is holding the camera and who is doing the directing. A self-reflexive film in a film with clear allusions to Fellini's "Otto e mezzo" (1963) and other classics of Italian and international film history which moves between the grotesque and the melodramatic, the absurd and the serious and the cynical and the affectionate.

VINCERE (Italy/France 2009, 20.10. with an introduction by Bert Rebhandl & 31.10.) A world away from the standard pitfalls of historical reconstructions, Bellocchio tells the story of the rise of Benito Mussolini and Italian fascism from the point of view of Ida Dalser (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), II Duce's first wife whom he subsequently abandoned. Dalser und Mussolini's paths cross in Milan, as she falls head over heels for him and believes in his ideas. They become a couple and a son is born, with Dalser selling all her belongings in order to support Mussolini (Filippo Timi). Yet when the First World War breaks out, Mussolini leaves and denies any connection to her and their son in the future. She battles uncompromisingly for the place at his side.  "Ida Dalser follows Mussolini's rise from the point of view of the spurned. I immediately saw the inherent melodrama in that. They say that melodramas aren't true, but this melodrama is true, just like all the others too." (Marco Bellocchio).

MATTI DA SLEGARE (Fit to be Untied, Silvano Agosti, Marco Bellocchio, Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli, Italy 1975, 21. & 29.10.) A cinema edit of the two-part documentary Nessuno o tutti (1975), a collectively produced work about psychiatric hospitals and private clinics in Italy as well as about a social reintegration program for the mentally handicapped in which patients, the clergy, carers, treating doctors and psychiatrists all get their say. A vehement appeal for a new approach to mental disabilities.

LA MACCHINA CINEMA (The Cinema Machine, Silvano Agosti, Marco Bellocchio, Sandro Petraglia, Stefano Rulli, Italy 1979, 27.10., Parts 1–3, with an introduction by Michael Baute & Stefan Pethke & 28.10., Parts 4–5) The second joint work by the authors' collective traces a line around the cinema phenomenon and its myths. The five stages of this "journey", moving from the provinces all the way to Cinecittà, from the world of the Sunday film amateurs and the violence of the festively decorated industry cinemas, resemble a slow "zoom" with the camera being continually "refocused". It is no coincidence that LA MACCHINA CINEMA begins with a wide shot of a misty landscape and ends with a detail shot of a dissecting table. 

An event in collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute Berlin. Special thanks to Kathrin Füchtemann and Aldo Venturelli.

September '17