[…] Terror mingles with beauty, danger with desire, and formal vigour with emotional turmoil. In fact, Alejandro Landes’ minimal yet thrilling guerrilla jungle survival story has so much going for it that it is, at times, hard to bear.
[…] It is at this point that the film enters its third dimension, delving into restless action and riveting shots of the new dangerous and impenetrable surroundings, superbly composed and often intensified by an almost artificial look and feel that make the setting even more haunting, more otherworldly, and more surreal.
[…] For most of the films sparse plot, «Monos» plays like a fever dream that never ends and that, ultimately, feels far more real than you would like it to be.
Text: Pamela Jahn
If forced to describe this film with a single adjective, tense is the only word that springs to mind. From its impressive opening sequence of a group of teenagers playing football blindfolded on a foggy mountaintop in some imaginary time and place, Monos declares itself not just an extraordinary visual and aural experience but also a challenge for its characters and its audience alike. Its central idea to heighten the sensual dimensions of the human body to their extreme is underpinned throughout by an eerie, uncomfortable feeling. Terror mingles with beauty, danger with desire, and formal vigour with emotional turmoil. In fact, Alejandro Landes’ minimal yet thrilling guerrilla jungle survival story has so much going for it that it is, at times, hard to bear.
Part of the fascination in Landes unforgiving piece of cinematic tension and surreal distortion comes from the way in which it strives to be as elusive as its premise. With little narrative context on offer, the increasing disorientation is enforced by streams of images that capture the breath-taking beauty of the landscape, while never losing sight of the brutal reality that plays out in front of the camera. Eight young soldiers, who go by names such as Rambo, Boom Boom, Dog, and Smurf, are being brought together by their “organisation” to form a fit and functioning paramilitary unit in the secluded hinterland of northern Colombia. It is not clear who they are and what exactly their mission is - only that it involves looking after a precious dairy cow and an American woman called Doctora, who they hold captive for reasons unknown. Their daily training programme for the emergency is strict and punishing, which leads the combatants to embrace the nights as an excuse to let go, party, and run amok by the fire. Whatever it is that drives them, it is a force so powerful and pervasive that it can but lead to disaster. As the troupe and their hostage are forced to retreat into the depths of the jungle, things soon take a turn for the worst. It is at this point that the film enters its third dimension, delving into restless action and riveting shots of the new dangerous and impenetrable surroundings, superbly composed and often intensified by an almost artificial look and feel that make the setting even more haunting, more otherworldly, and more surreal. Equally effective and essential to the film’s dreamlike imagery and dark charm is composer Micah Levi’s (Under the Skin, Jackie) roaring yet meticulously arranged score, that enables Landes to deliver what slowly reveals itself as an out-of-control nightmare portrayal of fanaticism, dysfunctional society and populism in miniature – with maximum effect.
For most of the films sparse plot, Monos plays like a fever dream that never ends and that, ultimately, feels far more real than you would like it to be. Landes, who wrote the script with Argentinean filmmaker Alexis Dos Santos, has created a bizarre, stylised and aesthetically stunning survival scenario, which manages to transfer the psychological density of William Golding’s island trauma Lord of the Flies and the madness of Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo to the universal horror of modern warfare and struggle for freedom. What’s more, Landes uses the jungle as a backdrop to claim the existence of an animalistic disposition of the human being that is violent by default, and has no choice but to fight and surrender to the elements and the wilderness that surrounds them. Arguably, none of this is especially new or sounds even remotely original on paper, but one step into Landes’ world is enough to catch the viewer’s curiosity and trigger one’s imagination afresh.
Crafted with force and vibrancy in every single frame, Monos is a not merely a maturely handled thriller, but a physical and sensual experiment, both test and temptation, accomplished by a bold and fearless auteur who enjoys pushing the limits of his expressive style to new dimensions on screen and beyond.
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Monos | Film | Alejandro Landes | COL 2019 | 102’ | Bildrausch Filmfest Basel 2019, Black Movie Genève 2020
Special Jury Prize World Cinema at Sundance Filmfestival 2019
First published: June 25, 2019