Far from the reaches of civilisation, the unsettling reality of teenage guerrilla soldiers is examined in the impressive and sensory Monos. Yet director Alejandro Landes is less concerned with the day-to-day minutiae of the children’s existence, but more the coarsening psychological consequences of war and the surreal beauty of their brutal playground.
The audience are airlifted and dropped onto a serene mountain-top, where our central troop of teenagers play nihilistic games and casually treat weapons as toys: their base an imposing trio of monoliths whose use has been long forgotten. The team belongs to a rebel faction known at the ‘Organisation’ (whose intentions are as mysterious as the monoliths) and have been charged with looking after an American engineer important to their cause and a ‘milk cow’.
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-guerrilla 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 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 majestic composition. Rich blues and deep greens prevail, tying together the film’s midway shift from mountain to jungle, and breathing life into the story just as it threatens to drag.
Mica Levi, as always, compliments the visuals with a disorientating and arresting score that helps the audience delve into the warped mindset of the Organisation. Those looking for answers to the problematic subject matter may be left dry as the film descends into a battle of survival and madness. From the initial spring atop the mountain base, cascading down to the banks 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