Directed by Liliana Cavani in 1970, I Cannibali (or Year Of The Cannibals if you prefer) is set in the city of Milan where the government has cracked down on radicals and left their bodies littering the streets as a warning sign of sorts. The bodies come from all spectrums of life, male and female, young and old alike but it seems that the young outnumber the old by quite a margin. The government refuses to allow anyone to bury them but a young woman named Antigone (Britt Ekland) goes against society's rules when she finds that her brother has been killed.
She heads into the city intent on finding his body and giving it a proper burial and enlists the aid of a man named Tiresia (Pierre Clemente). They find and deal with the body of Antigone's brother and then set about trying to bury any of the others that they're able to. Adding to all of this is the presence of Emone (Tomas Milian), the son of the Prime Minister (Francesco Leonetti) who will wind up trying but failing to convince father to rethink things. His failure at the front of his mind, he rebels by behaving as an animal. As the police close in on Antigone and Tiresia they go underground and hide out as priests, but when Antigone's own family willingly helps the police move in, things do not look good for them.
I Cannibali is about as subtle as a brick to the head in its politics and its message but it is an interesting, if sometimes ridiculously pretentious picture that is definitely worth seeing. The art direction here is eerily effective as this ‘alternate reality' Milan becomes almost a post apocalyptic wasteland. With the government having all but completely squashed any revolutionaries who would dare speak up against them, things have gone quite. Those who do walk the streets step over the corpses (none of which show any signs whatsoever of decomposition) as if they were simply walking past an old newspaper or a soda can. The bodies of their friends and family now have no more meaning than street trash.
The performances are good here, if sometimes a bit over the top. Britt Ekland is beautiful to look at and it's easy to see why those who are drawn to her in the film would be drawn to her as they are. She has good screen presence and while she doesn't show a whole lot of range here, the story seems to call for a more distanced performance not just from her but from most of the others in the cast as well. Pierre Clemente, whose character doesn't speak the same language as anyone else and who is an obvious metaphor for Christ (he draws the symbol of a fish, for one, and there are other fish metaphors used throughout the movie that make this connection hard to miss) has an almost alien like presence as he accompanies Antigone through this wasteland of a city. Milian is rarely anything but watchable and he does a fine job here. His character becomes and animal in the later part of the movie and it's interesting to see how the talented and eccentric actor handles this transformation of his character.
The film also features a lot of interesting imagery and some impressive production values. From the opening scene in which some characters walk along a lonely, empty beach to the more surreal scenes I which Antigone and Tiresia go underground things always have a very calculated and deliberate look to them. Milan is effectively portrayed as a creepy ghost town and the use of religious imagery throughout gives the film more than just the obvious surface value of cool camera work and location work. An interesting updating of the famous Greek tragedy Antigone, this may very much be a product of its era and the politics of its home country at the time but it is no less interesting for it.
I Cannibali arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. The transfer spots some pretty nice color reproduction and is free of all but the minutest instances of print damage, but suffers from some pretty gregarious noise reduction and some just as obvious edge enhancement. There's also a fair bit of noise in the backgrounds here that's moderately distracting. There's not much in the way of texture in the picture at all, it all seems to get lost and turns into a smeary, flat looking picture that lacks in fine detail. Compression artifacts are fairly constant as well. Contrast looks alright and black levels are decent but nobody has any pores. This is clean and colorful but sadly very artificial in appearance.
The only audio option on the disc is an Italian language track in LPCM Mono with optional subtitles available in English. The score sounds great here, the theme song as well (‘Call Me Cannibal!') and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion. The dialogue is properly balanced and there's a decent enough amount of depth to the audio here. The subtitles are easy to read and all in all, the audio is fine here.
The main extra on the disc is an interview with the film's director, Liliana Cavani. The interview covers the movie's politics, makes references to Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion, and how the picture deals with themes of tyranny. She also discusses the importance of imagery in her movie, the theatricality of the dialogue in the film, how the movie remains relevant and some of the issues that arose during production. It's an interesting twenty-six minute talk sheds some welcome light on the origin of the picture and what its director was going for when she made it.
Outside of that we get a trailer for the feature, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection options. Inside the Blu-ray case, which fits inside a slipcover with alternate artwork, is a booklet of liner notes containing an essay on the film and a piece written about the picture by Cavani and a few other articles on the picture.
Raro Video debuts I Cannibali on Blu-ray in a presentation that is, quite frankly, lacking in the video department. The audio is fine and the interview with the director a nice addition to the disc that offers up some very valuable context, but the transfer isn't going to win anyone over. The movie itself is an interesting one, a politically motivated film full of interesting metaphors and impressive art direction made all the more impressive by a particularly moving Morricone score. This is definitely a film worth seeing, it's just a shame that Raro didn't do a better job with the visuals. Rent it.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.