Set in a Milan of the future under a totalitarian regime, Liliana Cavani’s I cannibali is at once inspired by Sophocles’s tragedy of Antigone, and very definitely influenced by the youth revolts and general zeitgeist of the late ’60s and early ’70s. In this repressive state,
the authorities chase down, brutalize, drive insane, and/or silence with bullets any dissenters against the order. The dead bodies of such rebels are left where they fall, and it is a criminal offense to touch or move them. Britt Ekland stars in the role of Antigone, whose brother has been slain and left dead at the entrance of a bar in the city. She is determined to move his body to a quiet place, and at the beginning of the film attempts to enlist the aid of her boyfriend (Tomas Milian), who happens to be son of the prime minister.
Then she encounters a stranger from a strange land (Pierre Clémenti), who speaks no tongue known to man, and who eats and draws fish. Together they first move the body of Antigone’s brother, and ferries it downriver to a peaceful final resting place; then they embark on administering the same treatment to other fallen rebels’ carcasses. For anyone familiar with Sophocles’ play, the final outcome is never in question, and Cavani follows her two unlikely protagonists on their journey through the nightmarish machinery of the totalitarian state, and also departs on a tangent to show the fate of Milian’s character.