Directed By: Paolo Cavara, Franco Prosperi, Gualtiero Jacopetti
Starring: Rossano Brazzi, Yves Klein, Stefano Sibaldi
Tag line: "Never... Never... Never A Motion Picture Like It"
Trivia: Was nominated for the Palme d'Or at the 15th Cannes Film Festival, losing to the Brazilian drama The Payer of Promises
An exploitation film posing as a documentary, 1962’s Mondo Cane was an international hit, spawning a number of similarly-themed films made by the same directors (Africa Blood and Guts, Goodbye Uncle Tom) and inspiring a few others (supposedly, it was a big influence on the Faces of Death series). And while the movie does have something to say about the world we live in, the ultimate goal of Mondo Cane is to shock and disgust, which, on occasion, it does quite well.
Shot on-location in Europe, Asia, America, Australia, and places in-between, Mondo Cane is a barrage of random sequences, some funny (in Hamburg, Germany, we watch as drunks stumble out of a beer hall), some sad (we join a funeral already in-progress at a Los Angeles area pet cemetery), and some incredibly bizarre (off the coast on New Guinea lies Kiriwina Island, where, apparently, its customary for gangs of topless women to chase down every man they encounter). Exploring how different cultures handle birth, love, feasting, and death, Mondo Cane brings the entire world into focus, and more often than not, it isn’t a pretty sight.
Despite being a documentary, some of the scenes in Mondo Cane were clearly staged, including one that features Italian actor Rossano Brazzi (while sitting in a department store in New York City, he’s accosted by at least 3 dozen women who, in a fit of passion, tear his shirt to shreds). Such fabrications aside, Mondo Cane goes to great lengths to show us that truth is often stranger than fiction. Some sequences are mildly entertaining (like the spa in Japan where scantily-clad ladies pamper male executives who had a bit too much to drink the night before), while others will hit you over the head with their barbarity (along with a segment in Portugal where several men are gorged during a running of the bulls, there’s a particularly horrific segment shot in New Guinea, where a tribe ends its fasting period by killing hundreds of pigs and cooking them over makeshift fire pits. Animal lovers beware: the filmmakers don’t shy away from showing the slaughter, which is carried out with wooden clubs).
Mondo Cane does occasionally attempt to draw parallels between the various cultures, showing how men and women from all corners of the globe are basically the same (a scene in Tabar, New Guinea in which two women in a cage are being fattened up before they marry the local dictator, is immediately followed by a trip to an L.A. gym, where women do what they can to look appealing to the opposite sex). But those seeking a deep, meaningful dissertation on the human experience would be better suited looking elsewhere. At its core, Mondo Cane is pure exploitation. Anything else is gravy.