Cast: Julianne Nicholson, Moises Arias, Sofia Buenaventura, Julian Giraldo
Director: Alejandro Landes
I haven’t seen all of the foreign movies shortlisted for the Best International Film Academy Award, but I have a hard time believing that Monos in or near the top five to be nominated. From a purely primal perspective, there’s something incredibly fascinating about a movie like Monos that takes a scenario that very realistically is happening somewhere in the world and shows the short and long-term effects that this type of danger has on these kids. As a modern telling of Lord of the Flies, Monos takes real political turmoil and frames it in a way that breaks it down at its most basic human level.
The film follows a group of child guerilla soldiers living in the remote Colombian jungle. As the film develops, we see the rigid, cult-like rules and obedience that these kids pick up in their community and the cruelty that they can resort to when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to. I think the key factor to any foreign-language movie is the ability to overcome the language barrier and show exactly what’s going on in a way where subtitles aren’t needed. In Monos, over the course of 103 minutes, we get to see a true picture of what would happen if kids were left alone and brainwashed into thinking they were fighting for a cause greater than themselves. There’s such a level of intensity in the emotional responses these teenagers have as they face potentially deadly situations on an almost daily basis and you can see in their eyes exactly what they’re feeling. The most prominent example of this is with Arias and his journey down an interesting yet horrifying path. It’s very rare to see a young actor like Arias take on a role where he completely loses control and goes crazy in a quest for power and loyalty, so I applaud Arias for being able to handle the pressure of this movie and showcase its points so beautifully. For comparison, there’s a legitimate argument to make that Monos is to Colombia what City of God is for Brazil. Sure it’s not an introspective look at the real lives that these citizens are living, but it carries a similar emotional weight and provides a humanizing energy in the way that very few movies can. With only a few recognizable names associated with this movie, it would be very easy to overlook this movie and write it off as something that won’t resonate with American audiences, but those who do decide to watch this will be rewarded with an entertaining yet horrifying reality. The fact that the plot isn’t fully worked out may end up being an advantage for the movie as it shifts the emphasis more on the kid’s behavior instead of what they’re actually fighting for. While the movie tends to move at a more methodical pace at points instead of something on the more action-packed side of things, but in a very creepy sense it helps the movie keep that realistic feeling in a way that I very rarely see.
Overall, Monos takes a borrowed concept and makes something truly unique and spectacular. I have to believe that the events of this movie were influenced by the political unrest in Colombia over the past few decades, but even if they aren’t the ability to create an environment where everything seems believable. I don’t recall watching a whole lot of movies coming out of South America recently, but if all of them end up having the same level of quality that Monos, then I’ll be looking forward to any major projects by their best directors in the future.
Overall Score: 8/10