Far from the reaches of civilisation, the impressively resourceful Monos concerns itself with the unsettling, and sadly all-too-true, reality of adolescent soldiers in Columbia.
Right from the off, the audience are airlifted and dropped onto a serene mountain-top, a brutal playground where a group of teenage soldiers play nihilistic games and casually treat weapons as toys – their base a surreal trio of monoliths, whose use has long been forgotten. The team belongs to a rebel faction known at the ‘Organisation’ whose intentions are left purposefully ambiguous and have been charged with looking after an American engineer named ‘Doctora’ – her use to the faction, again, withdrawn from the audience – and a milk cow. From this beautiful, remote landscape above the clouds, the film follows the teens through the coarsening eventualities of warfare, navigating an environment where death and destruction is omnipresent.
A talented group of young performers play the assorted militia with gusto, each with their own code name (Rambo, Smurf, Bigfoot and Lady to name a few). But the most impressive element to the film’s authenticity is its casting of Wilson Salazar as the group’s adult messenger. An ex-guerilla soldier himself, Salazar was employed by director Alejandro Landes to put the finalists for the lead roles through a militia ‘boot camp’, and was so convincing that he was asked to take the role. In a Q&A session after its screening at the Berlinale, Landes offered the suggestion that Salazar is a living example of the possible solution for 60 years of war – something that the film desperately yearn and calls for.
Landes excels in finding lyricism in the bleak militarisation of these young minds, their loss of innocence a repeated theme, and spinning a sprawling survival yarn that routinely prods at the senses. Considering the mammoth logistical operation that must’ve gone into shooting Monos, praise must be heaped on Landes and cinematographer Jasper Wolf’s considered composition. Rich blues and deep greens prevail, tying together the film’s midway shift from mountain to jungle, breathing life into the film just as it threatens to drag.
Mica Levi’s score, as always, compliments the visuals with a disorientating and arresting score that helps the audience delve into the poisonous mindset of the organisation. Those looking for answers to the problematic subject matter may be left dry as the film is more concerned with the natural world, survival and the toll of war on young minds. From the initial spring atop the mountain base where Lady washes the blood from her face, cascading down to the final moments by the shores of the Amazon, Monos is a torrent of fantastically twisted magical realism.
Director: Alejandro Landes
Writers: Alejandro Landes, Alexis Dos Santos
Starring: Julianne Nicholson, Moises Arias, Sofia Buenaventura