With 1953's I Vinti (a.k.a. The Vanquished), master Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni examined the post-World War II epidemic of crime then affecting Europe. In three different episodes, the scourge of "the burnt out generation" is shown with well-off youths facing the consequences of idolizing gangsters, comic book violence, and superficiality. This unusual early entry in Antonioni's filmography has gotten a nice treatment from Raro Video with a comprehensive, Criterion-like package.
Not as stylized as Antonioni's later films, yet sharing a similar sense of nihilism and exasperation, I Vinti is set up as a cautionary "true crime" effort which oftens plays like the juvenile delinquent movies being done in the U.S. The urgency of the problem is conveyed with an opening newsreel-like montage in which a narrator explains how the children who were exposed to the daily horrors of World War II have matured into a horde of thrill-seeking wastrels devoid of morality and common decency. It then goes into three separate segments in which a compulsive murder is committed - crimes which could have been prevented in a more understanding society.
The first segment is set in France, and concerns an egocentric young man named Pierre. Pierre boasts to his friends of his wealth and his gorgeous fashion model girlfriend, both of which are a figment of his imagination. His prideful manner attracts the attention of flirtatious classmate Simone, although the girl is dating another peer of theirs, Andre. Perhaps believing that it will make him a man in Simone's eyes, Andre conspires with his friend George to kill one of their friends when the group goes out on a sojourn in the countryside. This was a moody, intriguing segment in which Antonioni keeps the viewer guessing what will happen next - and what the individual characters' exact motives are.
The second story, set in Italy, follows a pampered college student named Claudio as he gets embroiled in a covert smuggling operation-gone-wrong. Unbeknownst to his wealthy parents, Claudio's frequent absences from the family home are spent gaining favor with a politically motivated group of petty criminals. During a nighttime operation with the group moving boxes of smuggled cigarettes, the police stage a raid and Claudio is left alone fleeing on foot. Injured by gunfire, he desperately fires at and kills a man in his way. While his worried parents contact the police, Claudio seeks shelter with his girlfriend, Marina. Although the girl is at first perturbed at Claudio for interrupting her afternoon party, she comes to understand the severity of the situation and attempts to get him to a doctor friend of her family's for treatment. Claudio, however, doesn't want to risk the authorities and his parents finding out the terrible things he did. This part seemed too fragmented and the story wasn't particularly interesting (it was subjected to restructuring and edits from its original form, included as a bonus on this Blu Ray). It also sports a few instances of awkward, cringeworthy dialogue between Claudio and Marina.
Although I Vinti's first two parts have their flaws (mostly with their heavy-handed presentation), the final segment's portrayal of a conceited young man who turns to crime in a desperate bid for fame serves as Antonioni's tense, moody precursor for Blow-Up. Set in England, the story concerns a pretentious would-be poet named Aubrey, portrayed with a creepy, building intensity by British actor Peter Reynolds. Aubrey tips off a local newspaper reporter to a grisly murder in a park located in the London suburb of Saffron. Aubrey's discovery of the corpse of a strangled middle-aged woman makes him a mini-celebrity, especially after writing his own eyewitness account for the newspaper. It doesn't make him any more attractive to the shopgirl he's pursuing, however. In his desperation to lengthen his fifteen minutes of fame, Aubrey reveals to the newspaper reporter that he had a more insidious connection with the murder.
In the end, I Vinti is too inconsistent to stand up as one of Antonioni's masterpieces, although the director's skill with blasé, morally bankrupt characters foresees the great things to come from the filmmaker.
The Blu Ray:
The 1.37:1 image on I Vinti has been digitally restored for this Raro Video release. While the picture has a few instances of wobble, it looks satisfactory with a clean, sharp print that has been (for the most part) digitally scrubbed of dust, debris and other elements of age. The film stock's grain level adds a nice texture while not being too intrusive, while light/dark levels are kept to a pleasant balance.
As with lots of '50s European films, I Vinti's mono soundtrack can get shrill at times, although the disc's cleaned-up linear PCM dual audio sounds pleasant with minimal examples of pops, skips and dropouts. The original Italian-dubbed soundtrack is the sole audio option on this disc, even through a version of the film with the French and British segments spoken in their native languages has been available elsewhere. It should also be noted that the menu design on this Blu Ray sports some loud, unpleasant backing music. An improved English subtitle track is also provided.
Ported over from the 2011 DVD edition, the extras include an Interview with producer Turi Vasile (12:53), who contributed to I Vinti's screenplay while in his young twenties; an Interview with Franco Interlenghi (10:23), the durable Italian actor who played Claudio in this film. Another nice extra is Tentato Suicido (Attempted Suicide) (22:47), Antonioni's contribution to the 1953 anthology film L'Amore in Citta (Love in the City). The sequence is in standard definition video, although Raro Video is releasing the entire film on Blu Ray in July 2014. The Uncut Italian Segment (30:07) presents an un-restored, markedly different version of I Vinti's middle story as it was originally shown at the Venice Film Festival in 1953. Rounding out the extras is an 8-Page Booklet contains a critical essay written by Stefania Parigi, production photos and more.
The 1953 equivalent of "What's the matter with kids these days?" I Vinti aimed to expose the nihilistic crime sprees of Europe's youth in a way identifiable to its original audience, yet with enough complexity to make it intriguing for modern viewers. The gritty, three-part anthology showcases a crucial early stage of director Michelangelo Antonioni's career. Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and dilettante-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's seen are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.