Judge Gordon Sullivan is cinematically famished.
Our review of The Vanquished, published April 8th, 2011, is also available.
"Modern society can produce the most nihilistic tendencies."
The world of filmmaking in 1940s Italy was surprisingly small. Though it would be laughable to suggest that every director working in film at the time went on to greatness, the overall average for that "class" of filmmakers is essentially unrivalled in the history of world cinema. Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, and Michelangelo Antonioni were all, on some level, associated with the neorealist movement that sucked up Italian talent in the '40s and turned the genre into a worldwide art house phenomenon. Though the '40s gave these directors their start, most of them produced their masterpieces much later, in the '50s and '60s. Antonioni especially rejected his neorealist legacy to craft a set of films in the 1960s that are almost unrivaled in their consistency, influence, and brilliance. To the casual filmgoer it might seem that Antonioni burst onto the worldwide stage fully formed with 1960's L'Avventura. The truth is more remarkable: L'AvventuraI Vinti (The Vanquished) is smack in the middle of this transformation, and it's a fascinating document for those who know what director Michelangelo Antonioni will eventually become.
The early 1950s saw a rise in sensational stories about juvenile delinquents, and The Vanquished is a response to that crime wave. The film is comprised of three separate stories, each set in a different country. In France a group of high school kids murder another teenager. In Italy, a young college student falls in with a group of criminals and will have to kill to survive. In England, a young man raised on comics and gangsters insinuates himself into the world of crime when he discovers a corpse in a local park.
The fingerprints of neorealism are all over The Vanquished. The "ripped from the headlines" quality of the stories—including an opening newsreel monologue that makes the connection for contemporary viewers—follows in the wake of many films about important issues of the day. The film, like Rossellini's Paisan is comprised of several different segments all building towards a wider picture. The film is also an international co-production, partially funded by France and Italy, and with a commitment to shooting in the different countries that are portrayed on the screen.
Together, these elements make the film an interesting example of the neorealism legacy. More interesting, though, are the ways in which the film departs from the traditions in which Antonioni started. Antonioni isn't afraid to use professional actors, and the performances he gets from them are generally strong. More importantly, we can already distinguish those themes which would come to preoccupy the director from 1960 onward. The first segment has the tense mood and threat of violence that would haunt The Passenger, while the third segment's focus on media and murder feels like a practice run for Blow-Up.
Because of the different distribution schemes for different countries, The Vanquished was sometimes cut, with the three countries featured in the film taking a dimmer view of their own portrayal, but this Blu-ray goes back to the original negative for a 1.33:1/1080p VC-1 encoded transfer. It looks okay in most instances, with a print that doesn't suffer from horrible damage. Contrast is solid and black levels are consistent. The image does, however, suffer from excess manipulation. There are jagged lines from poor compression, and all the grain and damage appears to have been scrubbed away with DNR. Despite being taken from a restored print, this Blu-ray doesn't really look any better than a DVD. Is it watchable, sure, but it's not as much as the film deserves. The film's LPCM mono tracks (in dubbed Italian and the original English/French/Italian soundtrack). The tracks are limited by the technology of the day—the highs are much more noticeable than the lows—but are free of distracting hiss or distortion.
Extras though, are where the set shines. We get interviews with actor Franco Interlenghi and producer Turi Vasile. We also get an Antonioni short (Attempted Suicide) and the uncut, 37 minute version of the Italy segment, the one that was most heavily tweaked by censors. It's still the least engaging segment, but in this uncut form it makes a lot more sense. There's also a booklet that gives a nice overview of the production of the film.
The Vanquished doesn't quite live up to the best of Antonioni's work, as he's still honing his aesthetic and leaving many of the stylistic tics of neorealism behind. And yet for those interested in the director or the transitional world of Italian cinema in the 1950s, the film feels like an essential document. Sadly, this Blu-ray doesn't join the best of Antonioni's work in terms of presentation either. It's a fine enough way to see the film, especially given the extras, but it deserves better.
The court hopes for a better version of the film, but it's not guilty for
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