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Year of the Cannibals, The
Release Date(s)1970 (January 14, 2014)
Unless you’re a student of theatre (and a very disciplined one at that), then a title like The Year of the Cannibals will be a misleading one for you. It was for me, anyway. Being made in Italy in 1969 and released in the U.S. in 1970, I got the impression that it was something a little more in the vein of a horror film. It may be part of the reason why the film hasn’t been received very well since its release... either that or that it isn’t a good film to begin with.
Inspired by the Theban play “Antigone,” but set in modern times with a different backdrop, The Year of the Cannibals (known outside of the U.S. as I Cannabali) tells the story about a pair of rebels who struggle against a fascist government whose law states that all undesirables must be executed; in turn, their corpses must be abandoned on city streets, untouched and unmolested, as a warning to all citizens. The two rebels, played by Pierre Clémenti and Britt Ekland, take it upon themselves to break the law and start removing the bodies from the streets in order to give them a proper burial. They are, of course, reported to the police and political drama ensues.
The first of the film’s problems is that the two leads, who are fine actors in their own right, are extremely underutilized. Pierre Clémenti, who some people might recognize from The Leopard or Belle de jour, more or less mopes around the film most of the time and has very little to do. Britt Ekland is pretty much in the same category, as her character is almost lifeless and lethargic. The film plays more like a stage play than an actual film, going so far as having the corpses lying in the streets be completely intact without any decomposing setting in. Despite the use of some decent camera work, it feels dead (no pun intended) and it all really comes from the material itself. It feels pretentious and its ideas are a little bit too on the nose for my taste. But at the same time, it feels sort of fleeting and wanders aimlessly most of the time, never nailing down a singular, solid point to it all. As a result, I found it pretty boring and anything but compelling.
Unfortunately, that lack of care spills over into the film’s high definition transfer. I’d like to stress that I really appreciate RaroVideo for digging up these rare films that have hardly been seen by anybody, but if they’re going to compete with other distribution companies, then they need to step up their game when it comes to their transfers. The presentation of The Year of the Cannibals is a smudged and nearly detail-free mess. As with their release of Nightmare City (which I also reviewed), the film grain has been scrubbed away almost completely. Everything is soft and waxy, with an enormous amount of detail virtually gone. There were some scenes where some grain was still present, but even it looked ugly and undefined. I wasn’t too impressed with the color reproduction either. It’s very drab and lifeless, not unlike the film itself. You’ll find some very deep black levels, which is the one positive thing to say about it, but it comes at the cost of image detail. The contrast and brightness levels could have seen some improvement, as well. There are some light remnants of film artifacts left behind, but they’re very hard to spot without freeze-framing. The film’s soundtrack, which is a single Italian Mono LPCM track, wasn’t very impressive either. But compared to the visual presentation, it had a little less work put into, which in this case, is a good thing. It shows its age enormously, but dialogue is always clean and clear, as are sound effects and score. None of it sounds amazing or anything, but it fares better than its visual counterpart. All told, this is a very, very poor presentation of a film that was photographed well and has the potential to look much better on the format that it’s being presented on. There are automatic subtitles in English that can be toggled on and off, if you so choose.
The extras selection is pretty sparse, as well. You get a single interview with director Liliana Cavani, the film’s original theatrical trailer, and a 10-page booklet with several essays about the film and both a biography and filmography of Liliana Cavani.
I don’t really know the story behind RaroVideo’s Blu-ray transfers, but if they’re outsourcing them without scrutinizing them at all, they’re doing themselves a major disservice. And if they’re not, then this kind of treatment just won’t do, even for a film I didn’t care for. Somebody out there likes it and somebody wants to see it in the best quality possible, and this just isn’t it. I can’t recommend this disc at all to anyone really. It’s not a good film, and it’s also one that most people probably won’t understand or even care to try. With all that in mind, I say pass this one up and wait for a better release of it if you can.
- Tim Salmons