Cine 26 Film Review - Monos
Columbia, a country which has been engaged in a civil war for decades, has seen a new type of warfare develop, one unlike the world wars of the past, one which is being fought by small groups in the shadows, and one where there is no clear beginning or end. This lays the groundwork for the director Alejandro Landes' 3rd feature Monos, which begins with no explanation of context as the audience are introduced to a group of eight child guerrillas, who for the most part are left to their own devices and whose objective it is to look after an American hostage (Julianne Nicholson) and a cow for the ever-looming but unknown ‘Organization’. Comparisons have been made to Lord of the Flies and Apocalypse Now as the children run wild, treating guns like toys or engaging in ritual-like birthday parties, however, Monos' tense and engaging atmosphere feels like something unseen before in cinema.
The large majority of the child actors are non-professional, however, this doesn’t hinder their performances, as on-screen they are truly believable as eight young child guerrillas. This is in part due to the extensive casting process Alejandro Landes engaged in when selecting 25 actors to take part in a military training boot camp before the shoot started in order to select those who could handle the harsh conditions. Through using the characters of young guerrillas, Landes is able to mirror the conflict of war with the inner conflict of adolescence that these children are experiencing as their bodies change. However, unlike their fictional names, which resemble something found in a story such as ‘Rambo, Wolf, Boom Boom’, they struggle to manage with the situations they are placed in. These situations (all shot on location) are accompanied with highly saturated colours which capture the intense environments (being engulfed by wild water rapids, military training on mountaintops) in Monos, and are framed using wide shots, which the cinematographer, Jasper Wolf, juxtaposes with close-ups of the children engaging in vigorous training exercises, allowing for an intimate experience to develop that almost puts the audience within the group. This feeling is pushed even further by British composer Mica Levi, who delivers her third score for a feature film after Under the Skin and Academy Award Nominated Jackie. Keeping with tradition, Levi effortlessly interweaves the score to fit with the on-screen action and in doing so creates an incredibly unique and strange atmosphere. Using percussion instruments accompanied by beeps, whistles and an almost sonar-like sound, these elements work together to create a feeling of isolation that is then drowned out by the booming timpani, which generates a sense of the ground almost rumbling beneath the secluded child guerrillas and their hostage.
Monos is a film that uses cinema's medium of visuals and sound to its fullest potential to create an incredibly sensuous atmosphere, which wouldn’t have been possible without the extreme commitment from people in front and behind the camera having to brave conditions which included: filming in a wet and cold environment at 14,000 feet above cloud level with little oxygen and then having to film in the jungle for 4 weeks with no electricity, running water or refrigerated food. However, the combined hard work has paid off, with Monos winning the top prize at the BFI’s London Film Festival, and gaining worldwide critical praise.