Mondo Cane literally translates into English as ‘dogs world’ which is an apt title for this film, the own that spawned the so-called ‘mondo’ genre of shockumentary filmmaking.
What it claims to be, essentially, is a series of loosely knit incidents of a bizarre and unusual nature, masterfully edited into a structured documentary film with some narration thrown over top of it to attempt to place it into a social context or some sort.
What it is in reality is a sort of hybrid between a legitimate study of the strange world we live in, and the most crass of exploitation films. Littered with quite a bit of human brutality, very gratuitous animal violence, and what could be very easily construed as racist overtones, Mondo Cane is, even now over forty years after the fact, still a shocking film. Yes, time has aged portions of it better than others and some scenes, such as a group of senior citizen tourists learning the history of the Hawaiian Hula dance, are actually kind of mundane, there are still enough bizarre and grisly scenes contained herein to make it an interesting film and a historically important one at that.
Highlighted by a wonderful score by Riz Ortolani, including the song ‘More’ which was nominated for an Academy Award, we the viewers are treated to such spectacles as an tribe of natives in New Guinea slaughtering a group of pigs for a feast, using blunt clubs to smash them in the heads until the die, or a woman who has lost her child suckling a baby pig who has lost it’s mother on her breast. We see some European farmers force feeding a group of geese, contained in cages, to fatten them up for slaughter. Likewise, Japanese cattle raisers feed their bovines six bottles of beer a day and then later massage them, to keep them tender so that when they’re eventually slaughtered for their meat, they’ll become the best possible steaks that money can buy. We witness a Malaysian vendor sell a woman a snake to cook, and after she purchases it, he skins it on camera and then chops off it’s head for her, to make cooking it when she gets home an easier task. We also see a Vietnamese restaurant housing some caged dogs which will eventually become a meal or two. In Portugal the camera catches the running of the bulls as man are gored and bulls are killed.
But in addition to the animal cruelty scenes there are bizarre religious rituals as well. A group of Catholics flagellate themselves and tear at their legs with glass so that they can walk the path of Christ as he did before he was crucified. Children are recruited to help clean the skulls of the unknown dead, victims of a plague from the dark ages.
Strange scenes of human behavior round out the spectacle as we see subservient Japanese women tending to their men, German beer hall patrons overindulging and feeling the after effects, and a group of female Australian lifeguards demonstrating how they can save drowning swimmers in the ocean.
It’s a bizarre series of events captured on film, that is at times very beautiful, and at other times, shocking, grotesque, and depraved.