Mondo Cane (1963)

Genres - Culture & Society  |   Sub-Genres - Docudrama, Shockumentary  |   Run Time - 105 min.  |   Countries - Italy   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Donald Guarisco

This globe-trotting documentary was one of the more reviled films of its era. It's easy to see why Mondo Cane's critics detest it so: It gleefully rubs the viewer's nose in grisly shocks, there is a sneering undercurrent of racism in the tone of its narration, and it takes a disturbingly dim view of humanity. Between the gratuitous shocks, the film is also burdened with some obvious padding -- the worst example is a tiresome scene of tourists learning to dance the hula. That said, Mondo Cane offers some unforgettable sights and sounds for the viewer willing to look past its carny-style need to shock. For instance, a sequence involving an island whose wildlife has been ravaged by nuclear testing and the finale, which depicts a tribe that worships cargo planes, achieve a unique mix of beauty and horror despite the film's overall exploitative intent. Mondo Cane is also notable amongst the other films in this genre for its surprisingly high level of craftsmanship. The technicolor cinematography is surprisingly lovely and well-composed for a documentary and Riz Ortolani's score (including the Oscar-winning theme song "More") blends kitschy lounge-jazz and soaring orchestrations in a way that perfectly matches the ever-shifting moods of the film. In the end, Mondo Cane will probably have little appeal to modern audiences outside of exploitation film circles, but it remains an interesting and occasionally shocking curiosity piece for the brave curiosity seeker.