Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 12, 2019 6:04 pm 
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Teen guerrillas run amok

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw raved, understandably, about Brazilian-born Alejandro Landes' explosive, enveloping film about teenage soldiers run wild. He called it "the best thing I have seen at Berlin this year: something between Apocalypse Now, Lord of the Flies and Embrace of the Serpent," and that's a good place to start. It also reminded me strongly of Carlos Reygadas, and Lisandro Alonso's 2004 film Los Muertos. This is a Latin American Heart of Darkness inhabited by adolescents.

It's a gang of teenage fighters, boys and some girls, with an American woman hostage. They're ostensibly commanded by a small, muscular Indio type called Mesajero (Messenger, Wilson Castro), who holds them in a military formation and gives them instructions. But let's make clear right away that it's not particularly what is going to happen in this movie that you will take away with you but it's palpable sense of humans gone feral. These kids go wild like in Lord of the Flies but it's different, because they start out as part of a guerrilla organization somewhere else, with which they are in radio contact.

Mesajero assembles them in military ranks and gives them instructions. He puts Wolf (Lobo, Julián Giraldo) in charge. They have gang nicknames. There is Perro (Dog, Paul Cubides); little Pitufo (Smurf, Deibi Rueda); innocent-looking Boom Boom (Sneider Castro); three girls, Leidi (Lady, Karen Quintero), Sueca (Swede, Laura Castrillón), and the oddly named Rambo (Sofia Buenaventura). Then there is the wiry, dangerous Patagrande (Bigfoot, played by New York-born actor Moisés Arias).

Their task is to take care of an American hostage, a woman engineer they call La Doctora, Sara Watson (Julianne Nicholson). They now have been entrusted a cow, for whose well-being Wolf is responsible. But they have a celebration, they get drunk and fire off their weapons, and Dog misfires and kills the cow. Wolf is held guilty and imprisoned, and he commits suicide, whereupon Bigfoot takes charge. So everything has gone very bad very quickly. Not to waste good meat, they skin and cut up and roast and eat all they can of the cow meat. We see all this.

Where the cow lived and died they fall into its shit, and in it discover "fungitos", i.e, "'shrooms," magic mushrooms. There's more wildness.

Hostilities and rivalries arise, but also sexual relationships, which are allowed if requested. They move from the mountains down into the jungle, and when La Doctora starts trying to escape the new leader goes into a rage and partly destroys the radio that is their link to 'The Organization,' a sign of disintegrating order that's plain to see - or hear, since thee raucous and powerful sound score by Mica Levi, is one of the mechanisms that drives the action and the scene into our consciousness most irresistibly; it's so good it continues to surprise us even during the closing credits, which in themselves are beautiful. Monos is an exhilarating experience. It really leaves you speechless. Some, however, such as Keith Urlich in his Hollywood Reporter review, have spoken up in disapproval of the film as "irresponsible." Of course it is! They killed a cow. And in some scenes they may have put the young actors in danger. But Alejandro Landes and everyone concerned have created for us a wonderfully vivid, intense, and memorable screen experience. Consider what Rory O'Connor said in CineVue: it's "nothing short of an aesthete’s dream, a film crammed with visual bravado that at various times echoes Kubrick, Malick, and Coppola’s Apocalypse Now." One may be tempted to bend the rules for such an experience and such a filmmaker.


Monos, 108 mins., debuted at Sundance, winning its Special Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic competition.Monos has received major reviews and has received a Metascore of 82. At its Berlinale debut, Peter Bradshaw reviewed Monos for the Guardian, giving it five out of five stars and writing a rave review: "This overpoweringly tense and deeply mad thriller from Colombian film-maker Alejandro Landes is the best thing I have seen at Berlin this year: something between Apocalypse Now, Lord of the Flies and Embrace of the Serpent." Screened for this review as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Museum of Modern Art joint series New Directors/New Films, March 2019, which is the New York Premiere, and the Centerpiece Film of ND/NF.

Previously reviewed by me: Alejandro Landes' 2011 Porfirio ](ND/NF 2012). Landes was born in Brazil of a Colombian mother and Ecuadorian father, educated at Brown University and later employed as a writer for the Miami Herald. He is thirty-nine.



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