If watching exploitation films can sometimes be described as a kind of macho endurance test, akin to seeing who can order the hottest curry on a drunken night out, then Addio Ultimo Uomo is one of those films that will sort the men out from the boys.
For away from instructional films on surgical and autopsy procedures, the art of the Vienna Aktionists or certain niche / fetish pornography, it is quite possible the most extreme film you will ever see – and that statement includes more usual Italian exploitation suspects like Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, Buio Omega and Emanuelle in America.
The opening sequence, that of the killing and butchering of an elephant by African tribesmen, sets the scene, being unflinching and yet comparatively sombre and reasoned compared to the more usual mondo film.
There is still some maudlin musical commentary, most notably in the plaintive theme song why – “Why? Don't ask me why” – but also more apparently diegetic / authentic music.
Likewise, there is again that familiar mondo juxtaposition of 'primitive' and 'modern', whether of the unexplored surface of the moon and the African desert; the clubbing to death, cooking and eating of a dog with vivisection footage; ritual scarification and breast reconstruction surgery, or the spearing to death and severing of the hand and penis of an enemy tribesman with stock Vietnam combat and aftermath footage.
But the mondo's sneering, supercillious aspect is lacking in the voice-off commentary, which appears rather more factual and serious than most of its type, with the various rites of passage shown – which include funeral and burial rites and coming of age and fertility ceremonies – being treated with dignity and respect.
A dead elder is prepared for burial
Always assuming, that is, that you don't regard the very presence of a camera recording and representing such material, details of which include young women in one tribe being ritually deflowered with a dildo and an deceased elder of another being partially skinned, for gain to be unacceptable, full stop.
While I don't feel this myself, where I felt the filmmakers, Alfredo and Angelo Castiglioni, didn't quite succeed was in contextualising the different peoples depicted: we're told their names often mean the people or similar in their own languages, but at times there is that awkward tendency to jump from one group to another without fully identifying where we are in Africa and the more specific details pertaining on this occasion.
We see one tribe building huts and then jump to another where the constructions are evidently different; note the differences in dress, ranging from those tribes who are essentially naked to those who wear the odd western-style cap or sunglasses; or even the way in which a steel fishhook and disposable razor blade are used to perform scarification.
We may ask why. But, alas, the filmmakers have already implicitly answered that question with a don't ask us.
Nevertheless, I must again reiterate that Addio Ultimo Uomo goes further than most of its counterparts in presenting something other than just mondo shockumentary.
In this regard it is perhaps most fascinating to see the body modification material and feel that, rather than merely witnessing a one-way passage of thoughts and practices, that they have become like us as seems implied by the farewell of the title, we have also become that bit more like them, recovering atavistic aspects of our shared human past – or modern primitive future?
[A video-sourced AVI copy of the film is available from Surrealmoviez]