Ahh, 1962. A new year, new movies, a great leap into modernity or more of the same?
“Mondo Cane”, the first movie of 1962 is a great leap all right, but I am not entirely sure where to. Off the planet maybe and into the world of tabloid headlines and half-baked truths. Certainly an… interesting way to start a new year.
“Mondo Cane’s” raison d’etre is to shock and upset and not much more than that. In this manner, it has more in common with a modern tabloid or maybe a Michael Moore movie than anything else. Sometimes it works, I was upset a few times, and sometimes this 21st century viewer is just to jaded to take offence and then it seems merely quaint, but back in its day this was a great hit at the box office and apparently sparked a whole genre of “Mondo” films.
It was an Italian team (Cavara, Prosperi and Jacopetti) who combined footage from around the world in a montage that barely hangs together. The vignettes cover items such as pets, men as sex objects, environmental pollution and religious practices plus a ton of other issues that generally has very little to do with each other. When it works best the footage is combined so a topic is considered from very different angles that makes us question what is normal. My favorite is the jump from a pet cemetery in America where people say goodbye to their beloved pets as if they were members of the family to a Malaysian restaurant where you can get your favorite puppy for dinner. What is normal, to treat an animal as family or to eat it?
Unfortunately these juxtapositions fail more often than not, aiming more for the shock effect as when Gurka soldiers in Nepal decapitate living cattle. Even I had to look away. Or old people shoved aside to die in Singapore.
“Mondo Cane” is very liberal in its definition of truth and at times its manipulation is definitely in the way. I am sure the Bikini atoll was devastated by the nuclear bomb testing, but somehow the turtle confusion sounds like they are bullshitting us and the life guard demonstration in Sydney Australia is just too silly. On the other hand the sequence about nightlife in Hamburg is probably authentic. I have seen places and people like that and the saying is true that says that there is nothing as stupid as drunk people when you are not drunk yourself. Maybe with the exception of the idiots in the bull-run sequences from Portugal. Or the people who will pay a fortune for a smashed car or a painting made by nude women smeared in blue paint…
It is a surprisingly easy movie to get through. The confusion of these vignettes should have made it pointless, but in themselves they are usually beautifully shot and with enough surprise that I sit curiously waiting for the next vignette. Tribes on pacific island or Papua New Guinea are expected to be odd, but it is when we see our own culture portrayed as odd that it starts getting interesting.
I would not say I was sold by “Mondo Cane”, its objective is simply too narrow, and I do not feel informed at all, merely weirded out, but it was still a lot better than I thought it would be. I would be hesitant about taking too much away from the movie except this, that when your angle of view changes, things you thought where normal may suddenly become very strange indeed.