Mondo Cane is probably one of the most fascinating films ever made. It is a collection of thirty-four separate color sequences, welded into a unified whole by the sense of irony and the pessimistic philosophy of its producer and creator, Gualtiero Jacopetti.
Given the quality of the documentary sequences, it would have been nearly impossible for Jacopetti not to have made an interesting movie out of them. Almost all of them are bizarre or shocking or pathetic in themselves. Those sections which fall within the normal range of experience are made to seem extraordinary by comparison. For example, shots of middle-aged women trying desperately to lose weight in a Vic Tanny gymnasium are preceded by films of a New Guinea tribe where the prettiest women are shut in cages and fattened to 270 pounds, after which they join the headman's harem.
Jacopetti has done a beautiful job of finding these films and arranging and editing them for the maximum ironic effect. His purpose is to show that human beings are cruel, stupid and pathetic; he succeeds, at least, in showing that they can be.
Mondo Cane has one big flaw: the script, written by Jacopetti. The real impact of this film is visual; its point is adequately made by the sequences themselves and the way they are cut. Any narration beyond a minimal identification of what is on the screen is superfluous, and Jacopetti's is not only superfluous but also annoyingly stupid, full of bad puns, idiotic prejudices, clumsy writing, and leaden sarcasm.
In spite of the script, Mondo Cane is a gripping and sometimes extremely moving film. The most powerful scene was filmed on an island near Bikini, showing how animals and birds have been violently affected by the radiation from H-bomb tests. Fish have come out of the water to live in trees, and birds have tunneled underground, never to fly again. Other birds have been trying for years to hatch eggs killed by the bomb, and sea turtles whose sense of direction has been destroyed by radiation crawl inland and die after laying their eggs. After a panorama shot of the birds and a turtle, people in the theatre wept audibly.
Mondo Cane is good because the films it is made up of are good. They come from all over the world and have subject matter of enormous variety: Nepalese Gurkhas slicing the heads off bulls, a "house of death" in Singapore, a pet cemetary in Pasedena, a French painter who uses paint-covered nude girls as brushes, a Malayan tribe which gets revenge on man-eating sharks by stuffing poisonous sea-urchins down their throats, and so on. The movie veers wildly between the funny and the horrifying. It should not be missed.
On the same bill is Victim, a British import revolving around homosexuality. Its point (a good one) is that England's sex laws, which make homosexuality a criminal offense, are ineffective, barbaric, cruel, and an inducement to blackmail. Dirk Bogarde, as a happily married barrister with a homosexual past, turns in a fine performance. Victim drags in spots, but its point of view is admirable and is expressed without pious moralizing