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Born: Piacenza, Italy, 9 November 1939.

The son of a lawyer and a schoolteacher, he had a strict Catholic upbringing in a bourgeois home. Having trained briefly as an actor, he interrupted his philosophy studies at Milan's University of the Sacred Heart to study directing at Rome's Centro Sperimentale film school and London's Slade School of Art. He directed several shorts and documentaries before making an auspicious debut as a feature director in 1965 with I Pugni in Tasca / Fist in His Pocket, an award winner at the Locarno Film Festival. The film, a powerful comment on social decadence symbolized through a sordid tale of incestuous relations among a family of epileptics, was made with a tiny budget, much of it borrowed from Bellocchio's own family. It immediately established Bellocchio as a major new talent in the Italian cinema. Bellocchio used his favourite dramatic device—a bourgeois family as a microcosm of society and its ills—once more in his second feature, La Cina e vicina / China is Near, winner of both the Special Jury Prize (shared) and the International Critics Prize at the 1967 Venice Festival. The following year, however, he joined the extreme-left Communist Union and renounced fictional films for politically militant cinema. He became involved in the co-operative production of propaganda shorts and seemed lost to mainstream cinema. But he returned to features and his favourite anti-establishment allegorical themes with Nel Nome del Padre / In the Name of the Father (1971). His handling of Salto nel Vuoto / Leap Into Void resulted in the awarding of both the best actor and best actress prizes to the film's stars, Michel Piccoli and Anouk Aimée, at the 1980 Cannes Festival.

— Ephraim Katz, The Film Encylopedia

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This page was last updated on 23 July 2000.