Friday 14 January 2011

I Malamondo

Having collaborated with Prosperi and Jacopetti on Mondo Cane and Women of the World, Paolo Cavara here struck out on his own with another entry in the then-popular mondo filone.

It is hard to accurately compare the film with his previous work on account of the Something Weird version under review running 80 minutes against the IMDB’s listed runtime of 100.

What is clear, however, is that at this stage Cavara was still playing it comparatively straight and concentrating on delivering the generic goods.

He was not interested in giving the kind of self-referential critique of the genre and its ethics – or rather lack thereof – that would form the core of The Savage Eye three years later.

Stylistically the film emphasises a formalist rather than a realist approach. Rather than the use of the long take and the camera as a device to record reality, it is all about fast cutting, extreme close ups, crash zooms, whip pans, hand-held work and, above all, near constant music and/or commentary.

The last is designed more to entertain than edify, of course, expressing a supercilious superiority alongside opinions and facts that sometimes manage to be near laughable a half-century or so on, as when we visit a club catering to “The Third Sex” – i.e. homosexuals.

Thematically the film is closest to Women of the World, except that its focus is upon Baby Boom-era youth rather than women. This partially explains the relatively narrow geographical focus, with all the segments coming from western Europe – Italy itself, France, the Netherlands, West Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Sweden, and the UK.

Budget probably also played a role, however, in that there is nothing comparable depicting US youth. Nor is there the kind of modern/primitive juxtaposition that is otherwise a staple of the filone.

We do however get a repeated contrasting of contemporary and traditional values and practices.

For example, with ‘Prussian’ students having been banned from duelling we are told that they now have their Mensur scar, or schmiss, inflicted by a razor.

Or, in Leicester, England, a mod and a rocker race around town on their motorbikes to see who will win the hand of the women they both court. This becomes moot when the rocker ‘accidentally’ crashes into a delivery lorry with ‘fatal’ results, all this ‘coincidentally’ recorded by a camera that ‘just happened’ to be there at the right moment.

No, not a Black Flag gig circa 1981 but a Dutch student hazing ritual

The shock aspect of the film’s images is relatively muted. There’s a segment early on where a group of bored Italian ‘hippies’ decide to kill and roast a pig. As one of them kills it a young woman ‘faints’ at the shock whilst more generally “no one feels like eating any more”. What we do not see, however, is anything to convincingly demonstrate that the pig has indeed been killed. (Coincidentally or otherwise, the butchering of a pig had also been the subject of a short actuality by the young Bernardo Bertolucci. There, however, the animal's death had a purpose inasmuch as it was consumed.)

Elsewhere another segment shows German youth visiting Dachau. Apparently unsure that mere black and white stills of the camp’s victims will have the desired impact, Cavara repeatedly frames their emaciated and decaying faces of these victims with those of the well-fed sons and daughters (as the voice-off identifies them) of those responsible for their deaths and uses a crash zoom for good measure. Nothing succeeds like excess.

Given what Cahiers du Cinema's critics said about Pontecorvo's Kapo, wonder what they would have made of this segment?

Ennio Morricone provides the score, a mixture of spaghetti western, jazz, experimental classical and Euro-pop cues (one sung by Catherine Spaak). How far these were composed especially for the film or just culled from library and other pre-existing sources is debatable. That the soundtrack ‘works’ is not.

Worth a look for fans of the form.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Really good and thoughtful piece. Will definitely have to get a hold of this one at some point.