In 1953, Michelangelo Antonioni directed the episodic I vinti (The Vanquished), quite possibly the least “Antonioni-esque” feature he ever made (the roster of credited writers above is some indication of the impersonal nature of the film). Comprised of three vignettes about troubled youth in France, Italy, and England, the film at times comes across almost as a moralizing after school special, whereby it attempts to draw attention to the desperate and destructive state of young people during this period. But while the film’s obvious didacticism is its least laudable characteristic, I vinti is nevertheless a fascinating examination of this “burnt out generation.”
These young people were just children during World War II. They’ve grown up in a time of upheaval and violence, and now as society has progressed and begun to stabilize, they vainly cope with a new post-war modernity. They act out in this violent world by committing their own acts of violence, sometimes for egotistical achievement, sometimes for ideology, sometimes out of sheer greed or boredom. The youth are blinded by a mentality of personal gain and selfishness, which is further blurred by political and social conditioning. They paradoxically seek an adult form of independence, but are in many ways reliant upon, and restrained by, a familial and collective trust. The parents in the film, as well as the film’s opening narration, seek to pin down the aggressive behavior, attributing their misdeeds to factors ranging from gangster films to “boogie-woogie” music.
The three stories were ripped from the headlines, and their subsequent adherence to what really happened was the cause of considerable acrimony when the film came out, not only from the families of those involved, but also from various sociopolitical factions. The Italian episode in particular was subject to censorial demands and alterations. However, it is presented uncut in the new Blu-ray of the film. This release also includes interviews with actor Franco Interlenghi (from the Italian segment) and writer/producer Turi Vasile, each sharing some background on the production along with their personal recollections. There is also Tentato Suicidio, Antonioni’s contribution to the omnibus feature Love in the City, which itself will be released on Blu-ray July 22.
The first segment of I vinti is set in France and revolves around a group of young people who decide to kill one of their supposed friends. The violent act is all part of their general preoccupation with doing something simply for the hell of it, ignorant of any potential repercussions. Many are only concerned with good times and a worldly life of wealth. Their cruel ambitions lead them to the countryside, an ironically idyllic backdrop for the murder. The second portion of the film, the controversial Italian episode, has its main protagonist acting out for ideological purposes, his confused politics matching his youthful heedlessness. This segment seems especially born of World War II’s aftermath, with a focus on the black market that was then something of a necessity and is now a more stringently patrolled offense. Finally, the English segment concerns a young writer who for his own whimsy, and later publicity, kills an aged prostitute and toys with the police as they conduct their investigation. Widely considered the best of the three segments (Vasile says it also illustrates “Antonioni’s Anglo-Saxon bent” that would emerge in Blow-Up), this story is the most enduringly relevant, with contemporary media more obsessed than ever over self-made stars and scandal.
While Antonioni’s work frequently focuses on the role ambiguous emotions play in defining characters and their actions, this is one of his few films where motivation is derived more overtly from political and economic foundations. I vinti expressly stresses the fluctuating times as being a catalyst for these lives of misdirection. Similarly, the use of location in this film, an otherwise key facet of Antonioni’s methodology, serves essentially no more a purpose than being where the action happens to take place, aesthetically reflecting or suggesting little about the characters and their decisions.
Such a cinematic assessment of these troubling concerns was prevalent in Italy during this time (see Fellini’s I Vitelloni of the same year, with its assortment of aimless layabouts, or, later, Pasolini’s Accattone). But part of the point of I vinti, with its Europe-spanning division, is the universality of these issues: the inflated value of effortlessly earned money, the disdain for hard work, the obsession over celebrity and sensationalism, and the complex youthful desire for self-determination. Still, despite its diverse settings, one can’t help but think of Italian cinema in particular while watching the film, and not just because of its director. In many ways, I vinti represents what happened to characters like young Bruno in Bicycle Thieves or the world-weary children in Paisan, as they make their way to the self-indulgence of Marcello Rubini in La Dolce Vita. I vinti is perhaps what comes between.