Post-apocalypse in the Italian South with teenage boys

This Italian neo-genre film about two teen boys caught in a grim future world is lively enough, but never quite finds its way as a narrative or gets a grip on the post-apocalyptic genre it aspires to. It will, however, while away a couple of hours mostly painlessly in its slightly-worse-than-now fantasy world. With a debt to a variety of sources fromMad Max to Lord of the Flies to City of God, the film revolves around the dark-haired Cristian aka Pisciasotto (Bedwetter: Giuliano Soprano) and the dirty blond Pietro aka Mondocane (Dogworld: Dennis Protopapa), two thirteen-year-old orphaned lost boys from a post-apocalyptic-style wasteland (its partial degradation due to something about a polluted steel factory), who are sucked into a brutal Oliver Twist-like armed gang of children and adults called The Ants (Le Formiche). Hoping thereby for a better life, these two best buddies plot to meld into the nearby relative utopia of New Taranto (Taranto is a real place in the remote southeast part of Italy by the Ionian sea). But The Ants' mustachioed adult mastermind Testa Calda (Hothead; Alessandro Borghi) seeks to set the two bosom pals apart and make them enemies of each other.

Inside all the cyberpunk Lord of the Flies, Mad Max atmosphere, this thus emerges as a YA novel of tormented teen male friendship, while creepily, the two boys are somewhat eroticized, as well as dubiously caressed by Hothead, whose exact project and MO are unclear, though robbery and money are hinted at. Cristian is epileptic and has frequent onscreen seizures, all-too-realistically mimicked by Soprano, which Pietro/Mondocane sweetly helps him get through. Since he's deemed to be damaged, Cristian is initially rejected by Hothead as a potential Ant. Second time around, Hothead wants to use Cristian and push out Pietro when he learns the former has a knack for violence and murder while Pietro has trouble pulling the trigger. The scene where Hothead gets everybody to beat up on Mondocane, including Pisciasotto, is unpleasant and gratuitous. In the last part of the film's action, The Ants seem to focus entirely on a machismo contest between Pietro and Cristian. Hothead is obsessed with having Cristian prove his mettle by destroying his former best friend, riding around with Cristian on his motorcycle.

This is another film produced by Matteo Rovere, the forty-year-old impresario behind a growing number of efforts to revitalize Italian cinema by injecting strong genre elements onto it. Rossellini, Fellini, and Antonioni are turning over in their graves. The still relatively young Rovere's only directorial effort was The First King, a nine-million-euro recreation of the legend of Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome. This features Alessandro Borghi, who stars again here as Hothead. The effort seems to be succeeding: a review by Tommaso Tocci on the Italian website MyMovie says Mondocane took in 117,000 euros at the box office.

The two actors playing the boys are very good and work well together; the only thing that ever really matters is their fraught, ambivalent relationship. They, and the surrounding scenes and action, are attractively shot by dp Giuseppe Maio. The script was penned by first-time director Alessandro Celli along with Nina di Majo, a filmmaker with a rom-com background whose 2010 Weddings and Other Disasters I reviewed. She may be responsible for the moments of sweetness. This is not Mad Max or Blade Runner; it is not Oliver Twist: what is it? An inchoate fantasy version of City of God? Thanks to the actors and the mise-en-scène, it keeps you watching with visually stimulating (ideally big screen) action; but it never quite comes together as anything other than a boys' adventure fantasy. The turbulent final scenes, involving a chase, a reversal, and an escape, never feel obliged to explain why all this would be happening; but as i Giorgetta Pipitone, an Italian reviewer on online magazine MOW suggests, the whole movie might have made a great pilot for a TV series. Maybe the filmmakers and Matteo Rovere have a sequel in mind.

Mondocane/Dogworld, 110 mins., debuted in Venice Critics Week Sept. 2, 2021, with Italian theatrical release the following day; it was also included at Philadelphia (PFF Springfest festival) May 15, 2022. Kino Lorber distributes it in the US and it shows at Landmark Theaters in the San Francisco Bay Area (Opera Plaza) from May 20, 2022. Video on demand/streaming platforms release June 7, 2022.