A stern, hectoring narrator laments the state of the Young People of Today’s Modern World, and ascribes their terminal amorality to their having come of age during the World War Two. Having set the stage, he then withdraws until the end, that we might draw the proper moral conclusions from a trio of tales (inspired, loosely, by actual cases) that show the terrible depths to which the Young People of Today’s Modern World have plunged.
The first is set in France, where a group of teens head off for a day in the countryside. Their goal is to murder one of their own, believing that a) he is about to betray them by taking off to Canada; and b) that all his fanciful tales are true, and that he is fabulously rich. In the second story, a young man from a good home in Rome is involved, for no very good reason beyond selfishness, with cigarette smugglers. Barely escaping from a police raid, he guns one man down and is badly injured himself. We then follow him through the day as he slowly stumbles toward his destiny. The last story takes us to England, where a fellow, utterly convinced of his own superiority, courts a newspaper’s interest first by letting a reporter know about a body he has found, and later by boasting he killed the woman himself, believing that his crime is so perfect that he can confess to the police and then recant without suffering any particular inconvenience.
This early (1953) film by Michelangelo Antonioni answers a question I had no idea I had even asked: what would an exploitation film along the lines of Reefer Madness or I Accuse My Parents look like directed by an art-house giant? Now I know. This is a most peculiar beast. In in the first place, it is, as the liner notes point out, heavily compromised, having had its original script altered multiple times to deal with the censor boards and hurt sensibilities of the various countries where it was being filmed. Secondly, Antonioni was still finding his instrument as a filmmaker. So it is far more packed with action and incident than his later work, though it shows distinct traces of his signature style, in that it is gorgeously shot, and there is a distinct sense of all-pervasive urban ennui. The settings may be shaped by human activity (even the rural landscape of the first story climaxes in the ruins of a chateau), but these environments have long-since ceased to be properly human.
A fascinating film then, sometimes striking, sometimes silly, sometimes both at once.
There are a few rough patches here, but all told, this is a fine-looking transfer. The print is showing its age in the form of some blemishes, notably some guitar strings on the right-hand side now and then, but the black-and-white looks smashing, with terrific contrasts and no bleaching. The image is sharp, and the grain, all things considered, pretty minimal. The aspect ratio is the original 1.37:1.
The sound isn’t the most pleasing in the world, but this is the fault of the post-synchronization, not the disc itself. The audio quality is a bit thin, and the post-synch is painfully obvious, but the dialogue gets by in the first two segments. The English episode is the roughest, with the delivery sounding more forced than the other two, and the in-studio recording of dialogue that is supposed to be outside becoming hilariously apparent in a couple of instances. In fairness, some of the problems (dialogue and lip movements badly out of synch) are, as the liner notes point out, a result of the re-editing forced on Antonioni, some of which involved changing the dialogue itself.
Interview with Franco Interlenghi: (10:51) The protagonist of the Italian sequence recalls work on the film, and his very amiable relationship with Antonioni.
Interview with Turi Vasile: (13:24) A really neat piece, this. The producer situates the film in the context of the developing Italian film industry, not only from a filmmaking perspective, but also a philosophical one. How many movie producers have you seen lately commenting on the inadequate translations of Kierkegaard? Not many, I’d wager.
“Attempted Suicide”: (22:52) A short film by Antonioni, his contribution to the 1953 Love in the City. The existential angst and proselytizing impulse of The Vanquished are also present here.
Uncut Version of the Italian Episode: (30:04) The big difference here isn’t so much a question of running time, as it is footage. The first half is a very different story indeed.
Liner Notes. Very helpful.
Compromised though the film is, it is still a compelling experience, and its very flaws are themselves of historical interest. An important release.