Starring: Julianne Nicholson, Moisés Arias, Sofia Buenaventura
Director: Alejandro Landes
Running Time: 105 mins
Monos is a Colombian film about a troop of child soldiers stationed on a remote mountaintop, tasked with watching a prisoner of war and a valuable cow in the midst of a wider guerrilla insurgency.
Monos may be a film that takes place on a small scale, but its significance and scope are enormous. A riveting and cinematically spectacular look at the harsh realities of the conscription of child soldiers, it’s a movie that both thrills with its looks while making you think, making for a memorable watch throughout. Its gritty drama notwithstanding, however, Monos doesn’t quite have the overwhelming dramatic heft to really hammer home its main ideas, and while it’s certainly a sobering watch, it’s not a film that really left me as distraught as I expected.
But let’s start on the positive side of things, principally with the visuals. For all the worthy dramatic intrigue and important social themes that Monos brings to the table, the one thing you cannot ignore about the film is its visuals, which make use of both brilliantly modern, dynamic cinematic techniques and raw, exhilarating natural landscapes.
Playing out principally in two locations – an isolated mountaintop and the deep rainforest – Monos uses its settings to astonishing effect, leaving me awestruck at the natural majesty and scale of the locations, and how they’re pictured in such stunning detail and style.
But more than just a pretty face, the visuals play into the film’s dramatic atmosphere to a significant extent too. When set on the isolated, windswept mountaintop, the film feels cold, harsh and gritty. When set in the thickest depths of the rainforest, the film feels anxious, sweaty and on edge. Without even a word of mention of some of those atmospheric elements on the surface, Monos is able to hammer home some really striking drama throughout, and in tandem with those visually stunning settings, use its landscapes to brilliant effect.
Cinematically, Monos is spectacular, and its portrayal of the devastating and beautiful majesty of nature is second to none. Dramatically, however, the film doesn’t quite hit the same heights, and although Monos undeniably features some riveting and often even heart-renching emotion and drama, it just doesn’t hit the nail on the head when it comes to delving deep into the harsh realities of child soldiers.
Of course, the harshness and struggle experienced by children drawn into battle and war without really understanding the realities of the situation are clear as day in this film, but as Monos plays out with a rather unorthodox and deliberately indirect narrative, it struggles to really tap into the more intimate and emotionally striking elements of its subject matter.
The first act is at times a little hard to get to grips with, moving without typical narrative constraints and taking a deliberately vague approach to establishing core character and narrative arcs. That’s not to say it’s a boring watch, and there are some striking flashpoints throughout, as well as interesting development through the first half of the movie, but when push comes to shove, and things really do take a darker turn, Monos just doesn’t have the capacity to hit home in such devastating fashion.
It’s a gritty watch, and the cold, windswept harshness of the mountaintop in the first act is backed up by the intensity of life deep in the rainforest, but more so than really tapping into the psyches of children who find themselves as conscripted elements of a rebel insurgency, at least beyond some more easily identifiable struggles, Monos finds itself skirting over the most intimate and emotionally devastating realities of its subject matter.
Overall, I was impressed by Monos, but unfortunately not quite to the extent that I felt its potential promised. An undeniably spectacular watch from a visual and cinematic perspective, the film is a gorgeous marvel at every moment, further impressing with brilliant use of its natural landscapes and settings. Its drama, while also interesting and at times very striking, doesn’t quite hit home in such stunning fashion, often lacking the intimate, emotional power to go hand-in-hand with the eye-opening grittiness of the film, so in the end, that’s why I’m giving Monos a 7.1.