Mondo Candido (Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, 1975)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Mondo Candido.

criterion logoGualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi’s final collaboration is an outlandish masterpiece of cinematic confection far removed from the shockumentaries that had already established them as the godfathers of mondo.  Transcending time, space, and logic, Mondo Candido is a sex-obsessed slice of comic psychedelia adapted from Voltaire’s 1759 satire Candide.  Taught that he lives in “the best of all possible worlds,” Candido (Christopher Brown) finds himself banished, desperately searching of his beloved Cunegonda (Michele Miller) and disillusioned by a cruel and anachronistic world full of war, racism, religious violence, political oppression, and crass commercialism.  Replete with sumptuous sets, surreal twists, slapstick sexuality, and a wild score by Riz Ortolani, Mondo Candido is an impossible to categorize, absurdist tour de force previously unreleased in North America.

Disc Features:

  • New 2K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Around the World in 15 Years, interviews with Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi on their mondo documentary collaborations
  • A Farewell to Mondo, an interview with Franco Prosperi on the origins and production of Mondo Candido
  • Making-up Voltaire, an interview with Mondo Candido make-up artist Pierantonio Mecacci
  • Just “Une Connerie,” an interview with documentary filmmaker Federico Caddeo
  • Gallery of promotional photographs and press materials
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by Federico Caddeo and a new essay by film scholar Mark Goodall

The most significant impediment to a Criterion Collection edition of Mondo Candido (1975) is the baggage brought to it by its makers, Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi.  The duo are best known for 1962’s Mondo Cane, an exploitation travelogue collecting cultural practices from around the world with the aim to shock Western filmgoers.  Despite the usual condemnations of more refined sensibilities, Mondo Cane was a commercial success and even garnered a few awards.  Jacopetti and Prosperi would make a number of other shockumentaries thereafter and spawn the mondo film genre, with each film escalating its scandalously explicit content in an effort to outdo the last.  Say what you will about the wave of mondo films that followed Mondo Cane – at least Jacopetti and Prosperi maintained the educational veneer of their films.  Their following film, Africa Addio (1966), saw them fielding allegations of racism that painted them as defenders of colonialism.  The pair responded with Addio Zio Tom (1971) in an effort to present a clearly anti-racist film, but the graphic nature of their reconstructed antebellum South presented in heavily edited version from their original only made them further targets for critics.  Roger Ebert called the film “the most disgusting, contemptuous insult to decency ever to masquerade as a documentary,” and Pauline Kael described it as “the most specific and rabid incitement to race war.”  The pair concluded their collaboration with Mondo Candido, an outlandish adaptation of Voltaire’s Candide (1759) that is only mondo in name alone.  It is a fanciful, imaginative, highly entertaining tale of love, sex, and disillusionment, but the film saw no commercial release in North America, is nearly unknown stateside, and carries with it the associations of shockumentary, the product of the godfathers of mondo.  In truth, Mondo Candido reveals Jacopetti and Prosperi as talented and skilled filmmakers deserving of greater respect for both their artistry and their impact on film history.  It’s hard to believe that Peter Bondanella’s most recent edition of his survey on Italian Cinema adds only a sentence or two on Jacopetti and Prosperi (who were entirely unmentioned in previous editions), despite devoting whole chapters to low culture phenomenons like Spaghetti Westerns, giallo, Italian horror and gore, and poliziotteschiMondo Candido is a high production value fantasy deserving of wider acclaim on its own merits and provides a credible introduction to a pair of filmmakers whose contribution to cinema, while controversial, is indelible.  Despite being something of an uncharacteristic choice for the Collection, it would certainly broaden Criterion’s films from the neo-realist classics and Fellini fantasias that dominate the Italian portion of its library and provides an access point into the fascinating realm of Italian genre cinema yet to be explored by the label.

Mondo Candido is surprisingly faithful to Voltaire’s satirical assault on Leibnizian optimism.  The film is a picaresque fantasy involving a naïve young man, Candido (Christopher Brown), traveling through time and space on a journey in search of his lost love Cunegonda (Michele Miller).  Mondo Candido opens with Candido living a life of medieval luxury and pleasure in the castle of a noble family in Westphalia.  There, he is instructed by the castle’s philosopher and metaphysician, Dr. Pangloss (Jacques Herlin) that they live in the “best of all possible worlds” because “all is for the best.”  This world view is promptly strained when Candido is discovered by the castle’s baron with his face well under the skirts of the baron’s daughter, Cunegonda, and is banished from the castle.  From there, Candido travels the world, visiting various places at differing times throughout history, in a doomed effort to save his true love from the motorcycle-riding knights that swept through the castle after his exile.  He is pressed into service with a barbaric army which is promptly laid to waste by modern soldiers armed with machine guns and flame-throwers.  He is captured by the Inquisition, where he witnesses nuns being tortured (worked through giant meat-grinders, tossed into sacks with cats and dogs, etc.) and saves a young black man from the KKK by pretending to be his owner.  Candido eventually tracks down Cunegonda only to discover that his lovely girl is now a kept woman who happily satisfies her 4 lovers in exchange for their favours.  Separated again, he continues to chase Cunegonda – to modern New York where she delights concert audiences with her orgasmic musical performances, to Northern Ireland and to Israel where she once led (barely-clothed) revolutionary armies to mutually assured destruction – and repeatedly meets Pangloss, who continues to advance his ridiculously optimistic philosophy despite being surrounded by the ills of torture, syphilis, and unabashed consumerism.  Ultimately, Candido is reunited with Cunegonda, Pangloss, and the rest of the castle’s figures, now old and haggard, in a quarry where old hippies fashion meaningless icons of their own idealism.  A now fully disillusioned Candido is faced with the dilemma of how to warn his earlier, still innocent, self of life’s trials and of Pangloss’s false optimism.

A recurring quote is frequently used to describe the strange world of Mondo Candido – “Think Fellini meets Burton meets Lynch meets Greenaway meets Pasolini meets Jodorowsky meets any of a half dozen other film makers.”  This mass of styles and perspectives is an accurate evocation of Mondo Candido‘s wild and wicked vision, but for us the film most closely resembles the sex-obsessed extravagance of Ken Russell, particularly that of Lisztomania (1975).  Like Russell’s grandiose exercises in excess, Mondo Candido is salacious, outrageous, and packed with wonderfully bizarre and enjoyably puerile images, including 3-breasted wet-nurses, overly phallic armor, and partially clothed military battles in red-bloomed poppy fields.  And like in Russell’s films, Jacopetti and Prosperi ensure that every dollar spent is presented to the viewer, from location shooting in downtown New York City, to a wide array of fanciful sets and costumes, to the film’s highly sought-after score by Riz Ortolani.  Although I’ve seen little on the project’s genesis, there is something fascinating about this pair of shockumentarians choosing to adapt an Enlightenment classic for their final collaboration.  After years of bringing the weirdest and most scandalous rituals from around the globe to Western audiences and being pilloried as racists and monsters for their last two films, Jacopetti and Prosperi made a fiction film about the demise of a young, naïve man and a satire about the supposedly modern, allegedly liberated, presumably advancing world.  Is Mondo Candido a final appraisal of the filmmakers and their careers?  Were they innocent, idealist Candides?  Were they deluded Panglosses advancing flawed philosophies?  Or were they part of that corrupting world, placing the lowest common denominator up on a pedestal to be admired?  Mondo scholar and film and media lecturer Mark Goodall suggests that the film might be considered as mirroring Gualtiero’s own travels through life, satirizing the elitism of Western culture all while being persecuted for the same ills he criticized.  The answers to these questions are likely open to debate, and that’s a good thing, as Mondo Candido is a film that by its creativity and imagination lingers with you and encourages further inquiry, even if it is simply to ask what it is that you’ve just witnessed.  Regardless of the conclusions reached, Mondo Candido is an exciting and novel reimagining of a classic work, a masterpiece in the spirit of other filmmakers already canonized, and evidencing the talent and skill of a pair of directors deserving of greater attention for their impact on world cinema.

Fred Beltran Musiques en StockIf Mondo Candido were simply a fairy tale fantasy of an innocent young man traveling through various frothy, sex-addled adventures to save his one true love, a number of potential artists come to mind to offer a cover treatment, but Jacopetti and Prosperi’s satirical film blends in a healthy dose of grotesquerie and cynicism that needs accounting when conceptualizing it into a single cover design.  With this in mind, we offer French artist and designer Fred Beltran.  Beltran draws undeniably beautiful, sexualized women with an edge of hostility in their glare and a touch of the monstrous in their jacked-up proportions.  His men are rarely as idealized and his non-pin-up art is often packed with content and loaded with texture.  Further, his European, Métal Hurlant-style would easily connect his design back to the film’s 1970s, Italian origins.  With so much material in Mondo Candido needing consideration, Beltran seems the right artist to capably synthesize the film into a single, sexy, slightly unsettling cover treatment.

Fred Beltran RockabillyCredits: Mondo Candido is a title more likely to be released by Blue Underground (who have release Jacopetti and Prosperi’s earlier mondo documentaries), but with no North American edition of the film for home viewing, we’re hoping that Criterion might step in and provide us with a surprise.  All of the identified special features derive from Camera Obscura’s Region 2 PAL DVD which is generally considered an excellent edition in its own right.  The cover summary is adapted from Steven Puchalski’s summary for Shock Cinema Magazine.  Mark Goodall was selected as an essay contributor given his particular knowledge of the filmmakers and of the mondo genre as evidenced in his book Sweet & Savage: The World Through the Shockumentary Film Lens.

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