9 March 2008 | Bunuel1976
MONDO CANDIDO (Gualtiero Jacopetti and Franco Prosperi, 1975) **1/2
Despite the title, this isn't yet another repellent documentary by the notorious film-makers behind MONDO CANE (1962) et al; rather, it's an adaptation their only 'proper' feature as a team of the popular allegory "Candide" by the celebrated French author Voltaire. Incidentally, I own this classic piece of literature and, in fact, had read it some years ago; while I can't objectively determine the film's actual proximity to the source novel (also for reasons I'll get to later), as I lay watching it, I certainly recalled the episodic and essentially tasteless nature of the plot (placing the subject matter firmly down the film-makers' alley!) not to mention connotations relating to the main characters (the naively optimistic hero Candide, his long-suffering lover Cunegonde serenely accepting every card dealt her by Fate and the boy's infuriatingly practical mentor Dr. Pangloss), and even key phrases from the book!!
Voltaire's narrative thrust the titular character (after being banished for ravishing Cunegonde) into all the socio-political strife that went on in that particular era; in hindsight, little has changed throughout the centuries and, in fact, this satirical- picaresque style has influenced other notable works including Evelyn Waugh's "Decline And Fall" (filmed in 1968) and Lindsay Anderson's second "Mick Travis" adventure O LUCKY MAN! (1973). "Candide" itself has been adapted for cinema and TV a number of times, with perhaps the most interesting version being the 1960 French film (which updates the tale to WWII) with an all-star cast Jean-Pierre Cassel (as the hero), Daliah Lavi (Cunegonde), Pierre Brasseur (Pangloss), Michel Simon, Louis De Funes, Michel Serrault, etc. As for MONDO CANDIDO, it starts off in period vein but then switches to more recent times and events (presumably for a greater political immediacy) so that we see Candide & Co. involved with IRA bombings, Jewish freedom-fighters, even hippies; that said, it maintains a curious balance throughout of old and new: for instance, at one point Cunegonde is raped by a rocker dressed in a knight's outfit(!) - which emerges to be perhaps the film's comic/absurd highlight. For this reason, the ever-reliable Riz Ortolani provides a suitably eclectic score.
Given its considerable length of 110 minutes (and with the only notable performers in the cast being Jacques Herlin as Pangloss and popular Italian comic Gianfranco D'Angelo as Cunegonde's campy Baron father), it's small wonder that the film bogs down after the IRA scenes. Nevertheless, it features ample nudity and violence (notably the slow-motion massacre of the Jewish troops) to say nothing of weirdness to keep the interest alive (and is good-looking into the bargain).