Raro Video // 1953 // 114 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // April 8th, 2011
The exploits of the "burnt-out generation"
In an overlong introduction, The Vanquished tells us everything we need to know about itself, and that's too bad. The third feature film from Michelangelo Antonioni (Red Desert) is also one of the director's worst, an unnuanced and poorly performed piece of work that does little more than rant about the horrors of "kids today."
Three stories tell a dour tale about post-WWII youth, each based in part on true events. In the first, a group of French teens head out to the countryside for a picnic, but one of them isn't coming back. When they get this poor boy alone, they kill him in cold blood. The second concerns an Italian youth who gets involved with cigarette smugglers, only to accidentally murder a police officer when things go south. Finally, a British poet sees an opportunity for notoriety when he discovers the body of a prostitute while out in the woods. He gets his dose of celebrity, but the authorities quickly find out he's not telling the whole story.
The Vanquished has only one thing to say: You damn kids! Get off my lawn!! It screams it loudly for nearly two hours, but I'm thoroughly unconvinced this "burned-out generation" is any better or worse than what came before or after. This absurd argument gets made all the time and the more I hear it, the more annoyed I become. Let's just say this ham-fisted film didn't help my mood. Until the end of time, the young will be the enemy of the old; it can't be any other way. Adults see the young as weird and troubled, making decisions they would never make, unless they actually look in the mirror and remember their young selves. But then they'd have to admit that, once upon a time, they were weird, troubled youths, as well, making their parents miserable with their rock 'n roll devil music and hippie drum circles. Without this, what would old people have to complain about? As it is in 2011, so it was in 1953, when Antonioni decided to stomp his feet about all these crimes kids are committing these days.
Maybe I wouldn't care so much about that if the stories Antonioni tells were the least bit interesting. All three are about bourgeois characters living their bourgeois lives and, for no real good reason, commit their various murders. There's never a point where Antonioni contemplates why the post-war generation would have collapsed into crime and corruption. In simply asserting it as true and cherry picking examples to make his point, he only proves himself a worthless pundit shaking a fist at a generation that scares him. Anybody can do that; here's a cherry-picked example of corruption and murder: fascist Italy, Antonioni's own generation, a group that really should just shut up about their kids, who at least aren't a bunch of fascists.
Each episode is presented in the language of its characters and the actors are of the proper nationality, but that's about the best I can say. The performances are overblown and histrionic, with about as much nuance as the stories themselves; they deserve each other. None of the visual flair Antonioni would display later is noticeable here; this is a bland-looking picture. It's possible that censorship issues contributed to the film's problems, most definitely in the Italian episode where the dialog clearly doesn't match the onscreen action, but the overall impression, regardless, is maddening, frustrating, and plainly wrong-headed.
The film is not very good, but The Vanquished comes in a great package from Raro Video and E1 Entertainment. The image looks as good as it ever will, which is not perfect, but quite nice for its age and obscurity. Damage to the print is the problem; the transfer is excellent, with perfect contrast and nice deep blacks. The sound too is as good as it's going to get, with a clear and bright mono mix, and all of it through no less than two speakers. The extras, though, are the real meat of the disc, a short but impressive lot. Most importantly, we have the original Italian segment, which is dramatically different than the one in the final cut. It's a completely different story, this time about a fascist youth who blows up a building. It's quite a bit better than the segment in the feature, but censorship is what it is; at least it's here. It looks much worse than its counterpart, though, which goes to show the work done to make the feature look great. A short film called "Tentato Suicidio" is an interesting look at supposed attempted suicide survivors, but who know the veracity of the whole thing. Interviews with producer Turi Vasile and star Franco Interlenghi are definitely worth watching. Too bad the movie isn't.
In case I hadn't already made this obvious, The Vanquished annoys me. Films don't often elicit this kind of reaction from me, and I guess it's good that this one did, but my honest reaction is a desire to slap the director, which I can't imagine he was aiming for. This early Antonioni is only for his most ardent fans, but Raro Video, at least, has shown itself a promising young label on the DVD scene.
Get off my lawn.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Raro Video
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (Italian)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 1953
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Segment
* Short Film