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February 4, 2014

Movie Review: The Year of the Cannibals (aka I CANNIBALI, 1972)

Movie Review by Greg Goodsell

Directed by Liliana Cavani

A Christ-like hippie named Tiresia (Pierre Clémenti) is found on the beach by a pack of children. Revived, he briefly joins them in play when armed commandos gun all the children down. How fucked up is that? It would be really harrowing if the kids were realistically blown to smithereens, but all they do is fall down on the sandy bleach bloodlessly as if to play “freeze tag” amongst themselves. Meanwhile, in a dystopian Italian city, hordes of dead bodies lie uncollected on the city streets on order of the fascist-like government. Antigone (Britt Ekland) wishes to bury her dead brother, and does so clandestinely with the help of her new-found friend Tiresia. They begin to collect other bodies as well, take them to the countryside and then artfully arrange them around flowers and food. (It looks like both the Fascistic bad guys and our heroes both have a vested interest in spreading pestilence and disease among the living with uncollected dead bodies!) The anti-establishment couple go on the lam from the militaristic bad guys, at times posing as soldiers and members of the clergy … bored yet? Our heroes are unjustly executed but their legacy of dragging bodies to the countryside to rot unmolested is taken up by others.

The musical score by the legendary Ennio Morricone is fine, the photography by Giulio Albonico is lush and colorful – but The Year of the Cannibals is the type of art film one walks MILES to avoid. As the brief synopsis suggests, this is one of “those” movies where: 1. The film offers up facile, inarguable points such as “war is bad,” “the individual is good” and “conformism is bad” and hammers the audience with it; 2. Lots of heavy-handed symbolism abounds that wouldn't take a grade school to decipher; 3. Such institutions as the government, the military and the church are all heinous bad guys, but the “heroes” offer no solutions; 4. If anyone sees through all this transparent horseshit, the filmmaker's assured response is, “How can you even suggest that society ISN'T bad? You're one of the bad guys!”

In short, the film is a retelling of “Antigone” by Sophocles that misses the boat on all levels. In the original story, Antigone wishes to bury her dead brother's body despite the orders of King Creon. She does so in defiance, and is executed – setting off a chain of events that greatly punishes Creon and his kingdom. We have some of the former in the first part of the film, but none of the latter.

Insufferable and transparent, this writer suspects that there actually may be some clueless customers who will scoop this up thinking it's one of those tasty cannibal movies from Italy. It most certainly is not, unless you count the zombie-like acting of Pierre Clémenti, although it does evoke another shot-in-Italy horror film, The Last Man on Earth (1961) starring Vincent Price. In that adaptation of Richard Matheson's “I Am Legend,” Price stars as the sole human survivor of a plague that renders everyone else vampires. Ostensibly set in Los Angeles, but shot on location in Rome, many scenes were noticeably filmed at that most Italian of all locales, Mussolini's Esposizione Universale di Roma. Scheduled to host the World Fair of 1942 and dubbed the EUR District, the setting – and its fabulously hideous architecture, was intended to celebrate twenty years of Fascism and the revival of the Roman Empire – but a little thing called World War II got in the way. The scenes with the bodies lining the streets in I Cannibali evokes similar scenes in The Last Man on Earth – which in turn inspired George Romero's Night of the Living Dead in 1968 – so in some way, it IS related to an Italian zombie film, but in a much-removed way.

Wish we could say this is another triumphant release from Raro Video – but there's no making a silk purse out of this sow's ear. A brilliant presentation of a bad film remains a bad film. Among the extras are an interview with director Cavani, a fully illustrated booklet, the original theatrical trailer and a sparkling new transfer. Better luck next time, guys!  

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