Home Video Hovel: I Vinti (The Vanquished), by David Bax
Michelangelo Antonioni’s I Vinti (The Vanquished) is a triptych of stories about murder. More specifically, the stories are about young (roughly college-aged) European boys and girls committing murder. In France, a group of friends plots to murder and rob one of their own on a picnic because they believe him to be rich. In Italy, a university student gets fed up with the prescribed life path he’s on and joins up with the mafia; he shoots and kills an innocent man in the process of running away from the cops. And in England, a well-mannered loner kills a woman simply to commit the perfect crime but then realizes it’s no fun if no one knows about it and decides to tell everyone anyway. The crimes very nearly earn the oft-employed descriptor “senseless” and Antonioni depicts them with a sickeningly matter of fact gaze.
I Vinti’s unblinking survey of callous violence is on full display in Raro Video’s new Blu-ray release. The film has been fully, digitally remastered from multiple prints, restoring the middle story to its original, uncut length. The sharp contrast of the black and white photography enhance the cold reality while maintaining a kind of stark beauty. This is never more apparent than in the Italian sequence depicting the young man’s long escape from the police across an imposing, industrial nightscape.
Antonioni opens and closes the film with almost propagandistic sequences about the erosion of morality and civic virtue in the youth of the time. Given that “the time” is 1953 and, over 60 years later, we are still hearing the same things about teenagers, it’s tempting to laugh at the sentiment. That may even have been my initial reaction. But it also sparks some reflection. Antonioni’s impression of teenagers and young adults is a shocking and damning one. The motives behind these murders (quick cash for a vacation; impatience with the dregs of paying your dues before starting your independent life; mere attention) all point to the a solipsism that can turn indifferently to violence on a whim. If we still see young people that way today, could it be that it has more or less always been so? Is the period in a person’s life where he or she has more agency than empathy incomprehensibly volatile? When considered in this light, I Vinti turns away from moralistic scolding and into questions of collective existentialism. Is there any way to fully ensure that people will keep their impulses in check? If not, just how precarious are the codes of law and morality on which we think we’re founded?
On the other hand, I Vinti might be just a cool, violent movie. In either case, Raro’s Blu-ray is worth getting your hands on.
Special features include an interview with the producer, Turi Vasile; an interview with Franco Interlenghi, who played the Italian youth; a short from the period directed by Antonioni; and a booklet featuring essays and information about the film.