This was the debut film from Sergio Martino. Released in 1969, it was produced by his brother Luciano, with the pair going on to collaborate on numerous films over the subsequent decade, sometimes with Luciano also involved in a screenwriting capacity - although not here, with Sergio credited as writer and director.
It is a fairly standard example of the less violent and unpleasant side of the mondo film at the time, more reminiscent of Luigi Scattini’s Sweden: Heaven and Hell and The Satanists than the work of Prosperi and Jacopetti.
This is not just because a fair proportion of Mondo Sex’s scenes are located in Sweden; nor that it features the obligatory dubious occultists; but also because of Peppino De Luca’s rocking soundtrack, with its prominent use of Cream’s 'Sunshine of Your Love' riff as the basis for some psychedelic grooving and that Edmund Purdom supplied the English voice-over for all three films (the Italian voice over here is courtesy of respected actor Riccardo Cucciolla, who later impressed in the likes of Sacco and Vanzetti and Rabid Dogs).
Though the end credits declare that every scene is true and authentic, there’s the inevitable sense of dramatic reconstruction or imagining about many of the smaller scale, indoors ones, such as the occultist’s orgiastic ceremony and (also present and correct in that checking the mondo film boxes way) the lesbian club scene.
Others, generally of a larger scale and location nature, are clearly genuine. These include a cross-country skiing event in Sweden and various demonstrations linked to the events of 1968 and their emerging longer-term fallout.
The generation gap and culture wars also form the basis of other predictable scenes around the permissive society, including such topics as communal living, unmarried couples, drugs, pornography and prostitution. In relation to the last two we get an interview in which one Swedish adult film actress is asked whether what she does is different from prostitution. Initially she says yes but when then pressed to explain why by the interviewer hesitates and ends up agreeing with his implicit position that they are one and the same; end of interview, without further questioning, probing, or asking for what this might then mean.
It’s one of those scenes that demonstrates the filmmakers’ lack of a real agenda, beyond exploiting the various possibilities that the counter-culture was throwing up, not least in terms of allowing them to proclaim virtue in principle whilst enjoying vice in practice.
From the perspective of the Martino fan, the most significant aspect is probably the stylised way in which he handles the material. The sequence with the occultists begins with a frightened woman in some woods and is shot with distorting fish-eye lenses, whilst the orgy itself sees him bring out the hand-held camera. Coupled with De Luca’s music, the effect is very much like seeing a prototype for the black magic moments in All the Colours of the Dark.