As with the better-known Candy (1968) scripted by Terry Southern, this is an adaptation of Voltaire's Candide, although one that adheres to the source text as far as the title character's gender and the (vague) historical setting are concerned.
Nonetheless, as with filmmaker's Franco Prosperi and Gualtiero Giacopetti's earlier Farewell Uncle Tom, faithfulness to the original texts (there, the actual testimonies of pro-slavery and abolitionists commentators) is combined with numerous anachronistic elements and a decidedly formalist approach, with freewheeling camerawork, exaggerated angles, kaleidoscopic images and slow-motion amongst other devices.
We begin with Candido and his mentor Dr Pangloss as part of a Royal Court. Unfortunately Candido's relationship with princess Cunegonde leads to his exile from this paradise, separation from his mentor, and drafting into the Bulgarian army.
Equipped with muskets, cannons and exaggeratedly large triangular hats bearing the symbol of the illuminati, the Bulgarian forces march into battle for the glory of their king, against 20th century forces, equipped with tanks and automatic rifles.
The result is a predictable massacre, with the Bulgarian troops – now replaced by cardboard cut outs – being mown down in their tens of thousands, until the painter appointed to document the battle resorts to covering his canvas with red paint.
Candido, one of the few survivors of the massacre, then meets up with Pangloss, following an encounter with a brutish and decidedly ignoble savage, played by Sal Boris./Baccaro It seems that the kingdom was attacked by demons (later in flashback these will be revealed as knights on motorcycles, a la Knightriders) who killed the king and queen and raped Cunegonde no less than 126 times. Pangloss himself was saved on account of his syphilis, one of the various benefits that had necessitated the discovery of the Americas in this “best of all possible worlds”. Without the Americas, after all, we would not have potatoes, tomatoes or turnips either...
Some naught nuns
They soon encounter the inquisition, an element which strengthens what is by now a strong sense that the filmmakers have here made something akin to an Italian version of Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail or Jabberwocky, perhaps not as funny but arguably more grotesque.
The inquisitor disapproves of Pangloss's discussion of freedom and necessity, that it is necessary we be free, and orders them taken before the inquisition, which features some seriously funky grooves and nuns naked but for their hoods and figleafs.
Some Klansman like inquisitors who would not have been out of place in Farewell Uncle Tom
Candido acquires a freed slave called Cacambo and meets Cunegonde once more, while Pangloss is sentenced to death for his heresies. It emerges that Cunegonde has many lovers, including the inquisitor, whom Candido attempts to rescue her from.
Then Cundegonde is then taken to the new world, leading Candido and Cacambo to follow her; also on board their ship are Columbus, Vespucci, Davy Crockett, Marilyn Monroe, Al Capone, Neil Armstrong and Henry Kissinger.
They arrive in present day New York, where Pangloss is in charge of a TV crew. As Columbus is used to advertise coca cola, Candide learns that Cunegonde has gone to fight with the IRA in Northern Ireland, only to then find that she has left there for Israel, where (female) Israeli soldiers and unspecified Arabs gun one another down much like their counterparts in the Bulgarian army episode 200 years earlier; fans of the filmmakers work, will of course here recall that Israeli women soldiers had been featured in one of the segments of their earlier Women of the World.
The multiple images neatly reflect the multiplication of lovers and of possible best worlds
Given this kind of intertextuality, we might the following: If Mondo Cane presents a proposition, that this might be a Dog's World, then Mondo Candido presents more of a fact, that this is Candido's world and also ours.
Where Prosperi and Gualtiero's approach coincides with their source material is in their decidedly anti-Panglossian position, that this is quite emphatically not the best of all possible worlds. Moreover, between the Voltaire was writing and the time they were filming, things seem to have improved hardly any. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, to quote Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr...
Riz Ortolani's score is a pleasure, especially the cuts featuring positively orgasmic female vocalism. Christopher Brown, Michelle Miller and Jacques Herlin acquit themselves nicely as the three leads, with Miller at times reminding one of Edwige Fenech in her looks and mannerisms.
The production clearly had a decent budget, although one wonders how many places the film was denied distribution in on account of its excesses, unpleasantries and political aspects, and of how many viewers were simply weirded out.