Ennio Morricone means a certain, very specific thing to many cinephiles. Best known for his work with Sergio Leone, his scores for that genre legend’s greatest Western pictures has become the stuff of cinematic legend, and is in many ways some of the most definitively specific music ever laid to a cinematic landscape. His music is the definition of the saying “often immitated, but never duplicated.” However, recently, various films featuring scores from the legendary composer have been revived by various home video companies, enlightening the film world to how vast and truly diverse the musical auteur was throughout his lengthy career.
Joining a film like Elio Petri’s recently Criterion-approved Investigation Of A Citizen Above Suspicion, Raro Video has given the world a new Blu-ray of another unsung picture, and unsung Morricone composition, the Liliana Cavani film The Year Of The Cannibals. And it’s one hell of a gift for the film world to bask in.
Ostensibly a very ’60s take on the Sophocles play, Antigone (the film was released in 1970, but carries much of that ’60s counterculture aesthetic), telling the story of a Milan in decomposition. Bodies line the streets after a revolution was broken by the government, and those caught in the fire never given a proper burial. We meet Antigone, played by an unforgettably beautiful Britt Eklan, as she discovers the body of her dead brother, found at the door of a local cafe. When she meets a foreigner named Tiresias and discovers that her family will do nothing for her fallen sibling, she and her new buddy team up to defy the ever present police force by collecting all the corpses they can in order to give them the burials they deserve.
This sense of ruling class defiance is at the heart of this picture. At its very core, this anarchic take on the iconic Antigone play is a brooding, punk rock middle finger to the face of political leadership, dare we say a call to arms for a generation in need of finding the voice that the leading class so desperately tries to mute. With bodies lining the streets as if its nothing more than a way of life, like the neon clothes and mod-design lacing the interiors of local cafes and businesses, this film paints a faux-dystopic view of modern society, something one would find in a Pasolini picture, but with a jazz swing.
Aesthetically, the film is truly exciting. The script is ostensibly a series of philosophical musings, but with Cavani at the very height of her aesthetic powers, this is a percussive visual experience. Gorgeous photography laces this picture, with top notch work from DP Giulio Albonico and the production design from Ezio Frigerio is some of the best mod-design work you’ll find in any picture released during this time period. Cavani’s world is an absurd and surreal one, yet there is a distinct sense of intimacy found within her use of the camera, and some of the frames here are as gorgeous as any tableaux one would find in any major art museum. A true work of absurdist art, this meditation on political unrest via a modernization of a classic play is really a sight to behold.
However, the star here is the score from the man who started off this discussion. A vital and as punk a score Morricone has ever given us, this composition feels like a distant cousin to his work in the aforementioned Petri picture, and is given new life thanks to this superb new Blu-ray restoration from Raro Video. The film’s theme, featuring lyrics from Slade’s Don Powell will be stuck in your head for days, making your life a bit more entertaining, and Morricone’s subsequent compositions only further the film’s surreal and absurd world building. A perfect soundtrack for a film like this, this truly proves that there is no greater film composer than this legend.
The transfer, visually, looks breathtaking, with its new restoration from a 35mm negative. Bringing back to life this modernization of one of the greatest of all Greek tragedies is Raro Video’s greatest achievement, making the lack of supplemental material here easier to swallow. There is an interview with Cavani, and the booklet here once again proves that while they may not get much buzz, Raro Video does every release the justice it rightly deserves.
Overall, while the release itself is made simply by the restoration, it’s one hell of a restoration to boast about. Very much a piece of experimental, political protest, Cavani’s film may leave those looking for real dramatic depth wanting for more (the performances here are admittedly forgettable, but again, it’s not a performance piece), the world these actors live within is one of beauty and despair. A stunning modernization of Antigone, The Year Of The Cannibals is one of the late ’60s-early ’70s greatest works, and one of its most underrated and under-discussed. Made by a breathtaking score from Ennio Morricone, this is a film that needs to be basked in by anyone interested in seeing what one of the film world’s most underrated filmmakers can truly do with her camera. A minor masterpiece, this is a must own Blu-ray.