‘Mondocane’ Has Too Many Dogs In Its Fight
Mondocane has a few things on its mind. First and foremost a post-apocalypse gang saga, the film centers on two orphaned boys, Pietro and Cristian, who feel stuck underneath the thumb of an old fisherman who’s taken them on as free labor. Nearby, the town of Taranto has become desolate after a dangerous contamination in the past threatened the lives of everyone in the area. Fences and barbed wire surround the town, off limits to all parties including police. Gangs fight over territory while members of high society have abandoned it in favor of New Taranto, a metropolitan reset of the now-dead working class heart of Taranto. Pietro and Cristian end up joining The Ants, a gang led by the charismatic Hothead and is populated mostly by orphaned boys.
There might be a few too many things on the film’s plate. It wants to be a post-apocalyptic cautionary tale in scope but, by following two orphans, it has to keep a smaller scale to chronicle their personal struggles. At times it feels like a coming of age drama where becoming a child soldier is the only guaranteed way to survive comfortably, and if we’re measuring Mondocane by this metric it falls short by a mile. Add to this a love triangle of sorts with an orphan girl, Sabrina, whom Pietro and Cristian both take notice of, visiting against their better judgement at an upper-bourgeois beachside resort where she is essentially captive to. The drama of the film’s idea of star-crossed lovers can’t properly go anywhere because of the prior allegiances made to dedicating Pietro and Cristian to realizing how in over their heads they are.
Orphandom is a major theme at play here, and the film can’t seem to arrive at some point or thesis for what Pietro or Cristian have to offer for those around them or for each other, leaving the hundreds (or maybe thousands) of other orphans in The Ants just merely existing, with no attempt at compassion or investigating their appearances of gratefulness at Hothead for recruiting them, tasking them to perform appalling acts of violence and destruction in exchange for a roof over their head.
A lot of films that center on post-apocalyptic settings share a split focus on style and social commentary. Some favor towards the visual style, leaning its focus on the futuristic yet barbaric mix of technology to fill in the movie’s aesthetic, typically matching it with a similar sociological attitude, reverting gender roles to near-bronze age values, as an example. Usually themes of base survival serve just as well for commentary on wealth distribution. A great example of this is George Miller’s The Road Warrior, where in its first moments as we reunite with Max, he scarfs down a can of dog food in a display of delectability that tells us probably more than we need to know. We have a point of comparison to use later when Lord Humungus is introduced, extending the full power of a feudal mode of authority into territory of nearby settlements that are literally scraping to get by.
Mondocane tries to use this model of lending currency to the basic necessities, compared with a model of exiguity in which literal monetary currency reigns; “scarcity for them, surplus for us” is the ideal backdrop. But there’s too many things on Mondocane‘s to-do list. It can’t focus on the simplistic imagery pointing to more complex systems because it’s already committed to showing us those complex systems. It loses the impact it wants to have by trying to show us the entire picture, which is something that not even Pietro or Cristian would be aware of. It would also create higher stakes both for and against the journey of Pietro and Cristian and their desperation for luxury and notoriety.
While Mondocane attempts to challenge the vision our main characters buy into and eventually realize how much different their idea of freedom is and how to buy it, it’s only a sliver of what we’re being shown. The wedge between these best friends is by far the most compelling part about the film but it feels like it’s struggling for attention in a larger and more episodic approach. And because it feels it has to tell all these different stories it becomes a bit overlong for what it’s doing.
Mondocane is now screening at select theaters courtesy of Kino Lorber and is slated for a Blu-Ray release in July 2022.
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This article was originally published May 23rd, 2022 on Geek Vibes Nation.