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RaroVideo's most important release to date is director Michelangelo Antonioni's once-elusive second feature effort I vinti (The Vanquished) (1953). The film's dramatization of sordid crimes committed by disaffected young people caused its producers plenty of trouble -- attracting censorship and political interference in the script stage, during filming, and on the film festival circuit. RaroVideo allows us to see for ourselves what was done to make I vinti acceptable for public consumption. The extras also provide an early cut of one of the film's three episodes, before distributor second-guessing mandated reshoots.
The trio of stories takes place in different countries. Each is an altered version of a true event. In France, a clique of delinquent high school students have conned themselves into a twisted empowerment fantasy. Pooling their resources, they fool their parents, skip out on school and head to the country for a day. Unofficial ringleader Georges feels threatened by the popular Pierre, who has achieved celebrity status in the group with ridiculous fantasies of a wealthy background and exotic lovers. Pierre carries wads of fake money to fool his friends and boasts of taking off for Algeria rather than continuing his schooling. Georges' brother André is resentful because Pierre has attracted his girlfriend Simone (Etchika Choreau), who openly states that she wants to be rich and humiliate people less fortunate than she. But Simone is putting on an act as well. The manipulative Georges has persuaded both her and André into murdering Pierre for the huge bankroll he carries, so all of them can run away to Algeria.
The Italian episode, as finally released, is about college student Claudio (Franco Interlenghi of Shoeshine), the son of a wealthy insurance executive (Eduardo Ciannelli). Claudio's parents don't know that he's part of a gang smuggling cigarettes. Caught in a police raid, the young man eludes capture but kills an officer and injures himself jumping from a bridge trestle. Claudio protests to his beautiful girlfriend Marina (Anna-Maria Ferrero) that he doesn't feel guilty: he committed crimes to get money fast so he could enjoy life while he was young. He wants Marina to run away with him, but his injury is more serious than he thinks.
In the English segment, unemployed poet Aubrey Helland (Peter Reynolds of Devil Girl from Mars) phones a tabloid paper in London that has offered to pay money for sensational news that he has found the dead body of a woman in a rural area. Reporter Ken Wharton (Patrick Barr) jumps at the bait but also calls the police. Aubrey insists on writing his own story and including a big picture of himself on the front page, and he immediately takes his bounty to the dog track. Ken is intrigued by Aubrey's unabashed egotism but dismayed as well, especially at the man's lack of concern for the murder victim (Fay Compton). When his money runs out and his notoriety hasn't made him any more popular with a girl he likes, Aubrey contacts Ken once more. He'll do anything to achieve the celebrity he craves...
I vinti is beautifully directed, with Antonioni handling his young actors with ease. Nothing seems false in any of their behaviors, and his use of the camera is exemplary. The locations in all three countries seem particularly vital. Antonioni shoots in places like Piccadilly Circus, without resorting to the usual travelogue treatment. The French episode has similarities to Frank Perry's 1969 teen shocker Last Summer. Having rejected their middle-class futures, the kids feed on their own fantasies of responsibility-free riches and opportunity, forming a social chemistry that enables a mild sociopath in the group to take control. We can see the tragedy coming, as these kids have decided they're responsible to nobody and have lost any sense of judgment or perspective on their acts. One girl brings her tiny sister along, yet Georges' moronic murder scheme goes on as scheduled. The femme fatale Simone revels in her job of conning the victim into writing a note that will explain his sudden disappearance.
The Italian episode was originally quite different. Inspired by radical politics, Claudio dynamites a weapons factory, presumably killing or injuring a number of workers. But he's concussed by his own bomb, and can't make a proper getaway. The idea of a privileged college student acting as a Marxist terrorist made nobody happy. Conservatives objected that the film glamorized political violence, and leftist critics thought the film's condemnation of Claudio's actions was "too ambiguous". The alternate original version included as an extra allows us to examine the mechanics of the reshoot and re-dub that changed Claudio into a common crook with a less-controversial motivation. We often shake our heads when the intentions of American filmmakers are altered or censored into meaninglessness, and it's interesting to see that similar troubles have frustrated European greats as well.
The English episode is the most interesting from a screenwriting point of view -- it seems a precursor to Antonioni's huge '60s hit Blow-Up, which is also about a body found in an English park. The disturbingly credible Aubrey Helland is a fascinating menace; he tells a crowded courtroom matter-of-factly that the life of the dead woman is of no great concern to him. An optimistic nobody obsessed with the idea of becoming famous, Aubrey is delighted whenever receiving public attention. He would seem a meaningful character in the existential postwar world; Antonioni and his chief screenwriter Suso Cecchi d'Amico are saying that conditions are breeding a generation of potential Leopolds and Loebs. The episode ends with a shot of tennis players, which seems innocuous until one remembers Blow-Up's finale, with its tennis match sans tennis ball.
The movie's succession of titles display the evolution of its political content. The project began as I nostri figli (Our Sons), was changed to Prohibido ai minori (Prohibited to Minors) and then to Gioventù tradita (Betrayed Youth) before settling on I vinti. In England it was renamed Youth and Perversion. Although partly sponsored by a Catholic production company, the script's mix of radical politics and sordid stories of criminal youth raised eyebrows. In addition to Claudio's radical political opinions, we're told that lines of explicit dialogue about sex were cut. Influential authorities in France and Italy may have been concerned to protect their national images, as were American diplomats at this time during the Cold War.
I vinti sometimes resembles an Italian neo-realist film, but it is more of a socially conscious true crime exposé. As in Rebel without a Cause, we see that the wealth of the youths involved is irrelevant. None of the characters is destitute and all have caring parents. Claudio is well off and his girlfriend Marina even more affluent. The English segment is probably the most successful because it dramatizes serious issues without resorting to characters expounding their beliefs on camera. Aware that his newspaper is partially responsible for encouraging a murder, the reporter is sickened to learn that other daily papers are following his profitable example.
To ward off a potential moral backlash, I vinti's final version opens with a montage of newspaper coverage of juvenile discontent, delinquency and crime. The headlines are backed by a specious narration that cites the usual reasons for youth crime, adding the new existentialist philosophy to the cause list. As they were raised in a wartime atmosphere of violence, the European youth of 1952 are called "the burnt-out generation".
All of the acting (and dubbing) is good. The French kids make an interesting 'day in the country' ensemble, with Etchika Choreau (Darby's Rangers) more than enticing enough to goad some mixed-up kid into committing a violent act. Star Franco Interlenghi is excellent in the Italian segment, and the beautiful Anna-Maria Ferrero is strong in her few scenes. Peter Reynolds is fascinating as the utterly conceited Aubrey. Antonioni keeps the final English sequence in such careful balance that the actors stand out from their environment, yet always seem a part of it.
The film's use of source music is interesting -- Aubrey's theme seems to be Danny Boy. The IMDB identifies actor David Farrar as making an appearance, a listing that appears to be incorrect.
RaroVideo's DVD of I vinti is a polished presentation given an excellent B&W transfer. The audio is multi-lingual, with subtitles for the French and Italian segments. Several shots are scratched and one or two may have been replaced by slightly less sharp copies. For some reason, a minute or so of the English segment slips slightly out of sync, a flaw that passes quickly.
The extras begin with an absorbing essay by Stefania Parigi. She straightens out the confusing story of the film's consistent bad luck -- French authorities wouldn't let the negative of the France-set sequence out of the country until Italian diplomats intervened. We hear about some of this directly in a taped interview with one of the film's writer-producers, Turi Vasile. He interestingly pegs the problem of juvenile delinquency as a "fragmentation of personality". In a separate interview, actor Franco Interlenghi can recall only a few anecdotes about the film, but he remembers his romances with various female stars.
Also included is the short film Tentato Suicidio, Michelangelo Antonioni's segment from the multi-part feature L'amore in città. Partly narrated, it gathers seven or eight people who have attempted suicide to recount their experience. We see them in an interview situation, and they also explain their feelings while visiting the places where the attempts occurred. Staged recreations are included as well. All of the stories involve unhappy romances. We're told that views of the attempted suicides carefully lined up and lit for the camera are similar to Antonioni's original opening for I vinti, before it was replaced by the newspaper montage and thematic lecture.
The second version of the original Italian segment is from a surviving print and contains scratches and a short patch restored from a videotape copy. Its inclusion negates several reviews I've read that presume that I vinti fits in neatly with director Antonioni's later film examinations of identity and personalities in crisis. Other critics are not aware that the imposed prologue that harps about a "burnt-out generation" is not Antonioni's doing. The film's misguided, essentially egotistical criminals, as originally conceived, kill for three separate reasons -- money, abstract principles and fame. The only one that may actually get away with his crime is the one that kills for money. RaroVideo's authoritative disc presentation of I vinti will delight fans wishing to learn more about the impressive early films of the Italian master.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
I vinti rates:
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