At its core, Alessandro Celli’s “Mondocane” is about the dissolution of a friendship. But this near-future cynical crime thriller, with its Hunger Games morals and Mad Max aesthetic, is too busy glorifying cruelty for its central relationship to resonate.
The story is set in Taranto, an Italian port city where a contagion disaster has poisoned the area and left the remaining inhabitants fighting for survival. Pietro and Cristian (Dennis Protopapa and Giuliano Soprano) are good friends who live word of mouth on an old fishing boat. Cristian, who suffers from debilitating seizures, is the more reckless of the two, believing his unidentified illness will kill him. So when recruited by the Ants, a criminal gang of wild hedgehogs led by the sociopathic Hot Head (Alessandro Borghi), Cristian’s affinity for chaos immediately marks him for advancement.
A derivative, dystopian fable (indeed indebted to the region’s longstanding problems with steel mill emissions), “Mondocane” depicts a post-apocalyptic world in burnished copper and shining gold. As the two boys learn to shoot and commit robberies in the city’s affluent neighborhood, their poor upbringing is complicated by erratic pace and the distracting attention of an obsessive police officer and her young informant.
Expansive action sequences feel more de rigueur than essential in a plot centered on tragedy and betrayal; but when Celli relaxes enough to trust its young protagonists—such as when they elated to discover a shower that supplies hot water during a burglary—the film charms with an effortless naturalism. Moments like these remind us that, for those on the edge, innocence is always the first victim.
Not judged. In Italian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes. In theatres.