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Mondo cane (1962)
Bleak portrait of humankind
Renowned as an exploitation film, but I think that, like Jacopetti's other renowned exploitation film Africa Addio, it's highly misunderstood as simply sensationalist or sadistic.
It isn't as "radical" as Africa Addio in fact. Similarly it is a very misanthropic, perhaps even racist (against all races) film, but the shocking, violent, cruel scenes are not its peaks.
Baraka, which is devoid of any such shocking scenes, gives what is basically the same message but in a less explicit and "logical" (relating to words) way. What a sick species is humankind, and everywhere, regardless of differences in class or race, men live in sh!t, in repetitive and destructive cultures and behaviours.
Mondo Cane is much more explicit in its message, and the comparison between modern civilizations and ancient tribes, and between humans and other animals.
Baraka as Decadent film
Baraka is a wordless documentary, but not without a message.
It does have a logic to it, and despite its sheer beauty (after all even the burning oil-wells of Kuwait can be beautiful), it ultimately seems to me to be misanthropic to the core. Primarily it contrasts and parallels an old world and a new world, and shows how they are linked, how they are ultimately the same, how we in the new world, who think we're so different and superior, are actually not different at all. It says: humankind is a writhing mass of superstitious and miserable minds doomed to repetition, inflicting and suffering pain, and impassiveness, whether they're swaying at the Wall, going round the Kaba, shaking the incense, producing food, consuming food, working on a factory, going to work, etc... but it all can be composed together in a work of art and beauty.
Real superheroes: power and nihilism
So, somebody did it. Whenever I used to watch powerful superheroes like Superman, I used to wonder about how better one could portray Superman acting radically different in real life - he might try to solve small problems at first, take out a few madmen and crime bosses, but eventually he will inevitably think that the ills of society can be fixed permanently by taking, or at least dabbling in, political power. He, as the Superman, would do a better job of ordering the world in a way he sees fits and fixing it that way, rather than "fixing" all its small leaks piecemeal.
Anyway, so this spectacular film portrays a group of superheroes with varying skills and abilities but in a much more realistic way, which means that this film is very dark and somewhat violent, and not for kids. The superheroes are corrupted, just like we are, by their powers, they work more intimately as state apparatus than Superman or the X-men would ever think comfortable, and you'll find little idealism here. Despite it being a superhero flick and has some action in it, it definitely does not count as an action film.
It's set in an alternative world where the Cold War between the Soviets and the US is coming to a collision, partly due to the presence of the American superheroes themselves. The superheroes must act or the world will tear itself apart, but they also have their own problems to solve. Most of them are retired following public sentiment against them. And now there's someone killing superheroes. (The word "superhero" is never used in the film I think. "Costumed hero" is what they use, which is not applicable for at least one of them.) One of the problems with the film is that it is very very slow-moving, which is why it is also very long (2hrs 45mins), but obviously it's condensing a whole comic series into one film, so it needs time to introduce all the characters and the issues. Another problem is that it never seems to unite itself completely by the end, and remains to an extent a collection of stories about superheroes - this is probably just my feeling however, and an effect of its length. Another thing which bugged me personally was the pop music going off at slow-motion intervals tracing several characters at once - for various reasons I thought the choice of music jarred with the feel and subject matter of the film, but that may have been the initial intention.
Also, the philosophy of most of the heroes is somewhat right-wing nihilist... One of the things the film "predicts" correctly is that superhero crime-fighters would start with a soft lefty touch on criminals, but due to their constant exposure to lowlife crime would end up with a hard righty fist.