Mondo Cane was a sensation when released in 1962. It seems cinema-goers couldn’t get enough of the candid nudity and the bizarre rituals and the dismemberment. More Nudity!, they hollered. More Bizarre Rituals! More Discarded Limbs! It would have been insane not to capitalise on the success, yet despite this, the seemingly-far-from-sane Jacopetti and Prosperi took the defiantly sensible route and tossed Mondo Cane 2 into projectors the world over.
Mondo Cane 2, or Mondo Pazzo as the censored version was known, is a much more light-hearted affair than its predecessor. Sadly, however, it is also a much less satisfying excursion into the realms of the strange and the ludicrous.
Jacopetti and Prosperi disagreed bitterly over the piece, made up as it was from various leftovers from the original film, and fleshed out to some extent with fabricated and staged footage that further diminished the already floundering reputation of the pair as legitimate documentarians. Yet it still remains captivating, occasionally very funny, and at times even deeply touching.
It is also, whether intentionally or not, much more back-handed in its treatment of Western culture. Perhaps this is simply due to the fact that all the “barbarian” stuff was already used, but whatever the reason, European and American quirks and traditions get a much more sarcastic treatment this time around. Not to mention the British Censors, who have the entire opening sequence dedicated to their efforts. Whilst dogs have their vocal chords surgically removed so as not to disturb anyone with their barking and such, the narrator informs us that since the BBFC cut several such sequences from the original, this particularly unpleasant scene has been placed at the very start, so as they might leave the rest of the film untouched.
Not that there’s very much more of a violent nature to be gawped at, although there’s footage of a rebellion in Saigon at the mid-way point, which segues into footage of the famous “burning-monk” protest. It has since been revealed that this scene was in fact staged after the event, but it’s still incredibly convincing nonetheless.
But much more screen-time is awarded to delightfully daft customs and festivals, such as the Sardinian Hard Head contest, wherein seemingly an entire village run head-first towards steel shutters, wooden constructions and so on, by way of determining who indeed has the hardest of all skulls. There are a few casualties, and many bleeding bonces, but eventually the steel shutters give way under the barrage of violently-thrust scalp.
The commentary, also, is often unbelievably crass and patronising. As a group of people experience some form of mass-hysteria in a deconsecrated Italian church, our narrator ponders – “What are they shouting? Nothing that could possibly make any sense.”
The film is much less evenly paced than Mondo Cane, and suffers as a result. “Shocking” sequences where women dance around in toilet-paper dresses whilst horny onlookers thrust bottled water upon them, go on for far longer than is necessary. Such sequences also recall the much-more prevalent racist attitudes of the first instalment. Western women are never shown completely topless, whilst “natives” are allowed to dander around exposing breasts, bums and most of what is lain in-between. The suggestion seems to be that since these indigenous people, be they from New Guinea or the Philippines, are little more than animals anyway, it’s hardly worth getting in a fuss about their nudity. The notion is offensive in the extreme, and leaves an unpleasant taste in ones mouth regarding the smugness of the ideals herein.
But it’s still worth watching, as a much more kitsch, camp and yet still disturbing on occasion bout of cod-anthropology and tongue-in-cheek globe-trotting. The most amazing footage, however, arrives barely fifteen minutes into the picture, as a group of Mexican police officers partake in some incredibly dangerous target practice. Volunteers line up, holding balloons under their arms which are popped by bullets, or gripping chalk between their teeth, the item blasted in half while they remain unscathed. One marksman even blows the flame off a candle being held at arms length by some ridiculously brave participant.
Mondo Cane 2 would benefit greatly from a bit of the old trim-and-tuck, but still manages to be wildly entertaining and curiously nauseating, often simultaneously, and offers at least three sequences that are disarmingly hilarious.
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