Posts Tagged ‘Karen Quintero’

What’s that you say? A challenge? You want me to go and see a South American art-house film with an unconventional narrative? Well, let me just stop you there, for I am way ahead of you. In fact I am probably much further ahead of you than you might think, as (fingers crossed) in a couple of days I shall be attempting the pretend-film-critic equivalent of doing an ultramarathon, in the form of writing about Mariano Llinas’ colossal art-house oddity La Flor. But for now, I shall restrict myself to something relatively more conventional, by which I mean Alejandro Landes’ Monos.

Landes is part-Colombian, and the movie is set in the wilderness of that country (which, it must be said, often looks stunningly beautiful). On a windswept and often very muddy mountainside, a group of teenagers engage in a game of blindfold football and various other pastimes: they are the Monos, and it soon becomes apparent they are child soldiers for an unspecified paramilitary organisation. The group refer to each other exclusively by their nicknames: the leader of the squad is Wolf (Julian Giraldo), amongst the others are Lady (Karen Quintero), Bigfoot (Moises Arias), Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura), Boom Boom, Swede, and so on. When they’re not training, their main mission is to guard a captured American hostage (Julianne Nicholson), whom they nickname Doctora – she is much older than any of them.

Other than a radio, their only contact with their superiors comes through their contact, a sadistic dwarf, who occasionally visits to shout at them and ensure doctrinal purity. On his latest visit, he gives his sanction to a relationship between Wolf and Lady, but also charges them with another important mission – someone has decided to favour the cause with the loan of a valuable milk cow, named Shakira. The Monos are to look after the cow, who is possibly even more important than Doctora.

Well, Wolf and Lady enjoy a spot of the old consummation, which is just another excuse for a wild party as far as the rest of the squad is concerned. Unfortunately, excitable teenagers and high-powered semi-automatic weapons are not a recommended mix, and one which proves to have negative consequences for Shakira the cow. Wolf knows he will be held responsible, and finds the pressure and guilt impossible to cope with, setting off a chain of events which will lead to the disintegration of relationships within the group. But will anyone be able to get out of this situation in one piece?

My mastery of many tongues, not to mention my ability to use Google Translate, tells me that Monos is Spanish for – basically – apes. The implication is that the characters in this film are really little better than animals, and it’s one which its events basically support. Does that sound bleak? Well, I suppose it must – but considering that this is a film about child soldiers, one wouldn’t really expect anything else. There is, I suppose, a little black humour in the role played by Shakira the cow, but apart from that this is a thoroughly serious and intense film.

That said, it is a diffuse kind of intensity. The tale of children running violently out of control, away from the presence of adults, inevitably puts one in mind of Lord of the Flies, a similarity which only becomes all the more pronounced when the characters relocate from the mountains down into a rainforest. And, to be fair, the prominent appearance of a pig’s head on a stick (a key piece of imagery from Golding’s novel) suggests it is one the film is happy to acknowledge. But Monos is less specifically allegorical than Lord of the Flies – it is clearly inspired by the long-standing armed conflict troubling Colombia, but if it has any particular message to offer with respect to this, it is presented obliquely.

Nor is it a conventional thriller in the way that some of the publicity for it suggests. There is an unfolding narrative as the film progresses, and it does incorporate moments of violence and tension, but this is not a film with conventional heroes or villains, or goals, motivations, reverses, triumphs and closure. In a strange way it is almost a character study, but if so it is a study of the entire squad. As the film opens, they are recognisably teenagers in many ways, at that stage where everything is still essentially a game to them – politics, training, sex, killing. But they show little sign of being aware of their own lack of maturity, which is one of the drivers of the plot. When any of them is forced to confront the prospect of taking genuine responsibility for their actions, their only response is a violent one. One of the unsettling things about the film is the way it contains many scenes where they behave like genuine adolescents – enjoying the illicit thrills of stolen kisses, or a brief experiment with hallucinogenic mushrooms, for instance.

If most of the film concerns a group of teenagers struggling to come to terms with adult responsibility, then the subplot concerning Doctora is something quite different. She is the adult in the group, to begin with – but the same kind of deterioration that afflicts the Monos also consumes her, as she is slowly but inevitablity brutalised by the nature of her captivity, leading her to actions which would be unthinkable in civilised society.

All of this works as well as it does because of a strong ensemble performance from the young actors. I would almost have guessed that most of them were making their first movie here, which only goes to show what I know: this is the fifth film to feature Moises Arias to get reviewed on this blog. He, along with the rest of them, gives an impressively assured and convincing turn.

But the real strength of the film is its visual style and energy. There are some striking visual compositions throughout the film, and moments which show real cinematic vision and power. The deployment of a striking, unsettling soundtrack is also very well-handled. This is a proper piece of powerful cinema – not especially comfortable to watch, and not offering an easy or trite message to the viewer, but engrossing and rewarding nevertheless.

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