CHINA IS NEAR (Marco Bellocchio, 1967)

The dysfunctional family in Marco Bellocchio’s second feature, La Cina è vicina, which Bellocchio co-wrote with Elda Tattoli, is a whole lot funnier than the dysfunctional family in his first one, Fists in the Pocket (1965). Glauco Mauri is beautifully bedeviled as Vittorio, a political science professor who is guiltily entrenched in aristocracy and massive family wealth. He has traded in his Communist credentials to run as the Socialist candidate for a municipal position, inviting the ire of his activist teenaged brother, Camillo, whose Maoism and brattiness compel him to regard Vittorio as traitor to their far leftist cause. (U.S. Americans who regard liberal Democrats as members of the far left will have to rearrange their insanity in order to grapple with Bellocchio’s narrative premise.) Their sister, Elena (Tattoli, excellent), although politically conservative, is sexually promiscuous.
     There are also two working-class characters: servants and lovers Carlo and Giovanna, whose appetite for financial advancement suits their sexual pursuits of Elena and Vittorio. They covet a bit of the high life that they also hypocritically decry. Additionally, Carlo himself wanted the Socialist Party candidacy that Vittorio has drawn.
     Bellocchio orchestrates a brilliant satire of politics and sex, religion, abortion, class, class envy, marriage and incest, taking aim at everyone’s hypocrisy, compromises, secret and unconscious motives. Consider Camillo’s exalted self-image as heroic revolutionary. He eventually blows up the toilet at the Socialist Party headquarters! In an elusive and surreal way this act underscores the family identity that Camillo is denying inasmuch as we were earlier introduced to Vittorio as he prayed for release from constipation while sitting on a home toilet. Indeed, this is a film full of oblique connections and echoes.
     Apparently, the grip of institutions like family and Church helps keep Italy’s Left in disarray.

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