By Jim Gilles
Los Angeles, CA (The Hollywood Times) 12/11/21 – At age 81, veteran Italian filmmaker Marco Bellochio was recently honored with Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 68th Venice International Film in September 2021 and earlier this year with an honorary Palme d’or at the Cannes Film Festival – both for good reason. His long career as a director has resulted in dozens of films, beginning with his award-winning Fists in the Pocket in 1965. At Cannes, Bellochio premiered his latest film Marx Can Wait (Italy, 2021), which is a frank and revealing documentary about his family – and most importantly, himself – and focuses on what happened to his twin brother Camillo, who committed suicide in 1968. Bellochio has long woven elements of autobiography into his work, threading personal themes of siblings, madness and suicide through his most intimate films. But here in Marx Can Wait, Bellochio finally uses the cinema to address directly the ghost of his dead brother Camillo. This is pure documentary, incorporating family photographs, home movies and historic footage together with scenes of the siblings speaking with Marco and talking with each other. I was able to see Marx Can Wait at the Wilshire Screening Room by invitation on Friday night.
The catalyst for this documentary film\ was a 2016 reunion of the surviving Bellocchio siblings in their Emilian hometown of Piacenza. Whether planned beforehand or not, the event gave the director the opportunity to involve his brothers and sisters in a discussion about their childhood, but more specifically about Camillo, recalled at the start as “an angel” whose intense, unaddressed melancholy led him to hang himself when he was 29. The Bellocchios were a solid middle-class family, their father a lawyer, their mother a devout woman whose consuming fear of hellfire is a source of laughter now but clearly had its effect on the children.
Marco and Camillo were born toward the end of 1939, just before World War II erupted. They had two other sisters, one of whom Letizia was born deaf. Paolo, the oldest, was mentally unbalanced, his frequent screams a source of anxiety that their parents never thought to protect them from (Bellochio’s 1980 film A Leap in the Dark contains a figure based on Paolo). Bellochio’s father died of cancer. Marco’s mother tried to deal with her husband’s death and the difficulties of her children with her fervent Catholic beliefs Marco’s older sisters and his surviving brother Piergiorgio and Alberto recall Camillo’s delicacy as a child. The boy grew up to be their father’s favorite, though as so often happens, that didn’t mean Camillo’s wishes were catered to – in fact, quite the opposite. Though ill-suited to a technical vocation, he was pushed into becoming a surveyor, which was considered a far more practical profession than Piergiorgio’s intellectual pursuits and Marco’s cinematic ones.
Bellochio’s first film, Fists in the Pocket (I pugni in tasca), winner of the Silver Sail at the 1965 Festival del Film Locarno, was funded by family members and shot on family property in 1965. Bellocchio had already turned Camillo’s cloying uncertainty into cinema in the form of the character of the little brother in “Fists,” but he would keep revisiting him. Bellochio’s next film China is Near (1967) marked the beginning of Bellochio’s foray in a Marxist interpretation of Italian society and the need for change. Bellocchio made a big impact on radical Italian cinema in the mid-60s and was a friend of Pasolini. In 1968 he joined the Communist Union and began to make politically militant cinema. However, in a 2002 interview, he remarked, “I can talk about my personal ideas but Marxism has little to do with it now.”
As the careers of Piergiorgio (founder of the leftist journal Quaderni piacentini) and Marco began to take off, Camillo felt ever more inadequate, and while the family recognized his deep unhappiness, it was considered a trait rather than a pathology. Perhaps because Camillo was the best looking of the group, the one who delighted in high-spirited pranks, those around him allowed his golden-boy surface to discount the darkness inside. Of those interviewed, only his girlfriend’s sister Giovanna Capra seems to have been aware of the depths of Camillo’s emotional turmoil, her unflinching, clear-eyed remarks providing some of the documentary’s most insightful commentary.
Camillo was a nervous kid, the only one who cried at the funeral of their father, and the only one not to find a steady profession, to not have a calling in life. He begged his brothers for work, and they couldn’t help him. He was having romantic woes and his depression and anxiety became unmanageable. When he took his life the family all thought it had to have been an accident. Suicide itself was so taboo in Italy, and they just couldn’t imagine it happening to someone they thought they knew so well.
Another brother Alberto mentions Camillo’s identity crisis, but curiously no one explores what that might have entailed, nor what part of this crisis apart from a lack of vocation (which is not an identity) would have led him to kill himself during the 1968 Christmas holiday. The retelling of that event by the family who were there is heartbreaking, as are Marco’s attempts to explain to his adult children Elena and Pier Giorgio what happened. It’s often believed that twins share a special bond, some kind of unspoken understanding, yet clearly that wasn’t the case with Marco and Camillo, and by adulthood they were moving in very different circles. By the late 1960s, the director was processing his newfound celebrity and latching on to the political upheavals of the era, so much so that he can’t recall his brother’s letters and clearly hadn’t been paying attention to Camillo’s depression.
As he rationalizes all this to his children, their faces reflecting what audiences are sure to interpret as disturbed skepticism at their father’s unsatisfying explanation, it becomes clear that Marco is unable to verbalize his sense of guilt at ignoring his twin’s mental anguish. Listening to him, we hear half-hearted excuses, but watching, we realize that Camillo’s suicide and Marco’s self-involvement at the time remain major sources of guilt in his psychological state. This isn’t a confession: He’s seeking not absolution but self-understanding, realizing however that such elusive knowledge won’t relieve his remorse or provide satisfaction.
The film’s title comes from a line Camillo himself said, in response to the director’s leftist crusades. As Giovanna Capra painfully reminds him, in 1968 Marco was so obsessed with helping the proletariat rise up against injustice that he ignored his own brother’s cry for help. It was that realization that led Camillo to say, “Marx can wait,” a rebuke so sharp that Bellochio has it uttered by Lou Castel, his frequent leading man, in his 1982 feature The Eyes, the Mouth. Ultimately career success and political beliefs are pale substitutes for the love that is central to many families and this film is Bellochio’s attempt to understand that at a deeper level. Marco Bellochio has outlived Fellini, Pasolini, Antonioni, Rosi, and Olmi, and he still has so much to say.