Judging Michelangelo Antonioni’s I Vinti, which translates to The Vanquished, too harshly seems just as egregious as over-praising it. Produced in 1953, the film is a muddled wayward-youth picture from an artist that had yet to come into his own. His indecision is obvious from the film’s opening voiceover monologue, one of a handful of signs that Antonioni wasn’t totally sure of what he wanted to say or how he wanted to say it. The film’s narrator, who promptly disappears after this opening segment, tells us that young Italians that came of age during the post-war period were compelled to commit crimes in order “to stand out, to feel like the star of a thriller, of comic-strips […] the only reason for spilling blood for them was to assert in the sinister light of a cruel gesture, the victorious culture of self.”
That facile tenet pervades two out of the three segments of Antonioni’s trifurcated melodrama about young people compelled to kill strangers just to get noticed. The fact that that theme isn’t in all three episodes suggests that Antonioni himself was initially reluctant to embrace it. A restored version of the film’s Italy-based segment, featured as a bonus feature on Raro Video’s new release, reveals that Antonioni originally wanted to make the character a terrorist. While he certainly could have changed the character’s politics to better suit the Italian censorship board’s needs, he instead turned him into a frantic kid whose gun happened to go off at the wrong time.
If anything, young Claudio’s (Franco Interlenghi) transformation from politically motivated criminal (“All for something I believe in”) to accidental murderer during the course of making the film was a slight but salient change for the better. The change in Claudio’s motives from the film’s original cut to its theatrical cut make him more like the film’s two other main protagonists, the British poet that’s compelled to kill so that he, too, will become a big sensation in the news and the French teen that senselessly shoots a man just for kicks. But like those characters, his nihilistic malaise is still described by chintzy dialogue. The French episode is most actively marred by amiably cheesy lines like “At your age, boys have a volcano at the bottom of their heart.” Characters in that segment are more likely to crow that they want to rob people “not for the money but to humiliate others” instead of actually emoting their feelings.
Still, I Vinti‘s Italian segment is the best of the bunch as it’s the one that adds the most nuance to the film’s unqualified and proudly jaded philosophy. Think of it: All three young killers get to be re-assimilated into society, a perfect example of the sophistic philosophical struggle in Antonioni’s film. Is the universe just benignly indifferent to our young killers, or is the narrator’s declaration that real life is “a squalid reality, unable to seduce anyone” valid?
If you believe the film’s Italian sequence, then it’s a little bit of both. Unlike his French and British counterparts, Claudio walks away wracked with guilt, knowing that not even his girlfriend Marina (Anna-Maria Ferrero) believes that he killed anyone. He sweats bullets and rants, “I don’t feel any remorse, you know?” Too bad the film’s team of six screenwriters, including Antonioni, made Claudio fall back on a clichéd statement of discontent like “I want to live life while I’m young, at 20. Not when I’m old.” Claudio’s story struggles too much to come to life thanks to lazy declarations like that but it is also the best that Antonioni’s callow film has to offer.
The print of the film that Raro Video released was recently restored in cooperation with the Venice Film Festival, so the film looks very good. The wear on the print that was used is negligible, and the 2.0 mono sound is inevitably flat but nonetheless crisp and clear.
Raro Video tends to spoil their fans with an abundance of bonus features, and their release of I Vinti is no exception. I especially recommend checking out the original version of the Italian segment, Antonioni's 23-minute-long contribution to the Italian omnibus film Love and the City, and Stefana Parigi's comprehensive essay on the production of the film.
In spite of some promising and fun nourish tropes, I Vinti is for Antonioni completists only.