Synopsis: “The camera strips woman right down to her skin,” proclaimed the ads, “…lays bare the secrets of her mind and body!” Using outtakes from Mondo Cane as their foundation, Directors Gualtiero Jacopetti, Paolo Cavara and Franco Prosperi created this leering yet lyrical study of women’s roles in the international culture of the bizarre. Here is the female of the species as mothers, murderers, warriors and whores, respected as high-powered executives and objectified as bodacious bombshells, grasping for eternal beauty and even engaging in “unnatural friendships.” From love in the streets of Paris to death on the African plain, the Mondo masters turn their unflinching eye on all the things never before known – and never before shown – about Women Of The World.
Women Of The World features sly English narration by two-time Academy Award winning actor Peter Ustinov (Topkapi, Spartacus) as well as a remarkable score by Oscar-nominated Mondo Cane composers Nino Oliviero and Riz Ortolani.
eyelights: the wide variety of women being examined.
eyesores: the incoherent structure.
‘La donna nel mondo’ is a travelogue-style look at women from various regions of the world.
It was made by the producers of ‘Mondo cane’, the controversial exploitation documentary, and was released in 1963. Much of the footage in ‘La donna nel monod’ was shot for ‘Mondo cane’, as it was all meant to be one film. For reasons that escape me at this time, however, it was separated into two distinct films each with their own respective focuses.
I picked up the DVD sight unseen, simply because I loved the notion that this would show me a variety of women from around the globe in a neat little package of under two hours. I had no idea what to expect, but figured (based on the packaging) that it might be slightly sexy and that, at the very least, it was going to be something off the beaten path.
Whatever my expectations were, I was left with a certain degree of ambivalence with the picture. It wasn’t interesting, particularly entertaining, or even remotely insightful. And it most certainly wasn’t sexy (at least by today’s standards – and, I suspect, barely by 1963 standards). It was pretty much an empty experience, devoid of any meaning or stimulation.
The format didn’t help at all. Although I appreciated that it showed us a large variety of women, it did so in an incoherent way, tying one area of the world to another or linking disparate themes with seemingly no logic. Furthermore, each segment is but a glimpse, a mere moment in time, with no explanation or insight into what is actually going on, on the cultural significance of the images.
Basically, the impression I got is that the filmmakers went around the world looking for women as different from each other as possible (within their limited budget, of course – there are no Inuit women, for instance) and didn’t actually care about sociological significance or their behaviour. The intention seems to have been to make a quick buck through sensationalism, sometimes using sex to capture one’s attention.
Still, it was interesting to look at women from so many different places around the world: Australia, China, France, Germany, Hawai, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan, Kenya, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Tahiti, United States and many others. I counted at least 40 different locations, some of which were in the recurring countries, like France and the United States.
It was a snapshot of the world in the early ’60s. Some of it bared the sleazier aspects of the world, but it also showed us the first woman priest, the Treasurer of Bank of the United States, and other groundbreakers. It also showed us unusual customs, such as skin pealing, plastic surgery, window girls, using camel dung as a beautifying cream, bathing fully clothed to avoid tanning, professional mourners, …etc.
There are some comments that the film is sexist, and it may very well be, but it’s nothing compared to what we see in our culture currently. What hit me the most was the anti-abortion message that came at the tail end, when discussing thalidomide babies, who were born with deformities. There was a heavy focus on how happy, bright and beautiful they were and how their parents hoped they would have a future.
I understand the sentiment, but it took me by surprise, given that ‘La donna nel mondo’ was largely a documentary bereft of message, mostly providing audiences with an aloof if not mocking look at the world. To suddenly get political seemed out of place, even if it was a subject worth reflecting upon and worth discussing. Had the picture been more substantive from the onset, then perhaps it would have been more at home here.
All this to say that ‘La donna nel mondo’ wasn’t entirely dull, but it wasn’t necessarily worth the runtime of 107 minutes. It didn’t contribute much to my understanding of women, even though the advertising makes claims that it would. If anything, it provided me with glimpses at an era that is hardly reflected in today’s culture. But it offered me with no real grasp of it. Considered as a documentary, however, it fails on many levels.
Date of Viewing: May 17, 2013