“This little brain of mine — that you didn’t trust an inch! — planned the whole thing.”
An epilectic (Lou Castel) decides to relieve his older brother (Marino Mase) of their dysfunctional family by gradually killing everyone — including himself — off.
This astonishing feature debut by 26-year-old Italian director Marco Bellochio merits multiple viewings in order to begin to grasp its bizarrely twisted mentality. We watch the movie — part black comedy, part character study, part horror film — as we would a train wreck in slow motion, fascinated yet unable to look away. Indeed, it’s impossible to predict what will happen next, since none of the characters behave as you would expect them to: Mase barely bats an eyelid when reading about Castel’s intent to drive their family off a cliff; Castel’s sister (Paola Pitagora) treats her disturbed brother more like a lover than a sibling; and nobody in the community questions the sudden mysterious deaths of two of the family’s members.
Like it or not, we end up most fascinated by the dynamically deranged Sandro (Castel), whose powerhouse performance (watch the way he swings his hands and arms around) evokes memories of a young Brando. Rather than having Sandro consumed with vengeful jealousy over his older brother’s success in business and love (a much more conventional narrative choice), Bellocchio shows Sandro teetering between depression, grandiosity, and mental instability, all while ostensibly aiming to provide his “normal” older brother (does he wish to be him? or is he simply trying to “prove” himself to him?) with a chance at happiness. Sandro’s fate is sealed in the final baroque moments of the film, but (as to be expected) it’s unclear what kind of a future lies ahead for the remains of this highly dysfunctional family.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Lou Castel’s charged performance as the deranged yet ultimately “well-meaning” middle brother
- Paola Pitagora as Castel’s inscrutable sister
- Gorgeous black-and-white cinematography
- Ennio Morricone’s intermittent score — if only there were more!
Yes. This powerful, provocative debut by Bellocchio merits viewing by all film fanatics.