Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Mandinga

Certificate: 18
Running time: 86 mins
Director: Mario Pinzauti
Starring: Antonio Gismondo, Serafino Profumo, Maria Rosaria Riuzzi
Genre: Drama/Hixploitation
Country: Italy/USA

It’s the old South, old values, plantations and slaves and in the hands of Mario Pinzauti a world away from the respectable realm of James Mason…this is Mandinga and it “goes beyond Mandingo…the lust of slave owners for Black flesh!!”

There’s little room for misinterpretation here, Pinzauti was never renowned for subtly, he is however renowned for everything else and in his interpretation of the Old Southern Plantation owner lusting after his female slaves that’s exactly what he offers up.  Pinzauti would make (the following year) Black Emanuelle, White Emanuelle which should give you a significant heads up the ground he intends to thread on.  As everything and anything goes in the Italians idea of Louisiana.  There are a few positive facets about Mandinga but to get to them it’s necessary to weigh through the problems with the film…as you would imagine with a low budget Exploitation film directed by Pinzauti there are many of these.

The first is the script, it’s no secret/surprise that Mandinga is essentially the Exploitation equivalent of Mandingo but the script lacks any resemblance of story telling.  It sets up a basic premise, that of abusive land owner and sexual slavery, but rather than use it to progress an ambitious narrative it uses it as a device to get from one sex scene to another as seemingly all cast members take it in turns to make the beast with two backs with all the other cast members including at one point, on screen brother and sister.  What makes this scene even more disturbing is the romanticism that the sequence is shot with.  It’s a refreshing change to not see a glamourised assault when dealing with incest but the erotic fusion that Pinzauti attempts to inject into the scene leaves you in no doubt what his intentions are.  Mandinga is going to strive to arose genitalia rather than discussion.

Antonio Gismondo and Serafino Profumo give interesting performances as estranged father and son (Clarence and Richard Hunter).  While the senior (Profumo) plays the role of lustful lord of the manor and legacy builder with sufficient mania that even the most ludicrous scenes penned by Tecla Romanelli are believable the younger is confused and conflicted.  Pulled between what he sees as his eroding birth right (due to the increasing amount of bastard heirs being produced), the love for his sister and if that’s not enough the fact that, seemingly, he and his father are in direct competition for the affections of the same slave.  The rest of the cast have so broadly drawn characters that they are barely worth discussing, with the exception of Jacqueline Luce and Maria Rosaria Riuzzi (Mary) who seems to have accidentally transformed her role and therefore the parts of the film involving her into something that borders erotic Shakespeare which is odd, interesting and extremely alluring. 

The films use of torture is extremely problematic.  Exploitation cinema has a long standing relationship with torture sequences all you have to do is to look at the early American features in the Philippines to see this.  The problem (with Mandinga) lies in the fact that these scenes are given a connotation of sexual gratification through the cinematography but the fact that they go without retribution.  The torture of the female inmates in The Big Doll House, The Big Bird Cage and The Hot Box are palatable because of the course of events that exist after the torture scenes in which the victims turn the tables on their torturers.  This reversal does not exist in Mandinga and again, like the incest scene, the human body is treated by Pinzauti as a vessel for his pleasure.  It all just smacks of sleaze and leaves you feeling dirty…very dirty.  This is not, in my opinion, a true Exploitation film.  I’ve stated before what I feel makes an Exploitation film and in turn what makes Exploitation cinema (in general) great and Mandinga doesn’t attempt any of this.  It’s closer in ethos to Pleasures of a Woman and the general erotica subgenre, though it does have more going for it narratively than some of these titles.

It’s a real shame as Mandinga had the opportunity to look at issues like abuse, the landscape of rape in family histories, violence and how that could (pseudo genetically) be passed on through the generations and what this means for the population of the locations inhabitants, America and the human race in general.  Unfortunately each time one of these ideas seemed to bubble to the surface of the film it was as an opportunity to introduce another sexual encounter.

The positives are coming…the film has a visual look to it that is beautiful and romantic and showcases the softness of memory, as it can be viewed as romantic recollection by someone down the lineage.  The score is also wonderful, it’s indicative of everything that was cool about being an Exploitation film maker in this era.  Simplistic, iconic and most important audibly pleasing the soundtrack is a true joy.

Mandinga is worth watching as it’s the perfect example of a missed opportunity in film making, it’s why I always return to it as I find it beautifully frustrating.  Some of the shots in the film are beautiful, soft focus, hazy and dreamlike yet narratively and morally it’s lacking in the same softness and plays on the baser instincts of its audience.  The film it could have been is so close but yet regardless of the amount of times you watch it is never going to be obtained.  There's just too much going for the film in the wrong direction to really deserve a higher score.  It’s unfortunately for Exploitation cinema, in general, that it seems to roll around in some of the shadier aspects of the genre though never with the same level of intent to offend as some of it’s peers.



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