Rating: 5 out of 5
“We ourselves are a kind of madness”- Friedrich Nietzsche ‘Beyond Good and Evil’
Monos is a film of an extremely singular intensity. Apocalypse Now and White Material hinted at the desperation inherent to surviving in wartime and the ensuing mania from that tension. Monos ventures further into the territory of insanity and madness than those aforementioned films. This is an unforgiving, relentless piece of cinema, it feels much longer than it actually is, only because of the capacity this film has for trauma. No part of this film is easy to watch, even the soldiers “party” at the beginning is brimming with a violent, volatile, inevitable energy. This film will linger long past its credits have rolled, an unforgettable, piercing and dangerous experience.
A group of teenage soldiers are tasked with watching over a milk-cow and an enemy hostage, they are part of “The Organization”, likely a pseudonym for the communist rebels in Colombia, this is where Monos begins. The first thing the film establishes is the distinctly teenage-trappings of the youths in this unit. They are inclined to romance, mischief, hormones and impulsivity amidst a war that has been raging long before they were born. They inherit the weight and responsibility of “The Organization” along with their intentions and goals, however, they are much too young for the consequences to mean more beyond their immediate effects. Early on in the film there is a tragedy concerning the leader of the group, the children react the best they can but they are exactly that, children, they move on with their lives as kids do, without defiance and complete resilience, only later do they realize how deeply they have been affected.
This is an ensemble piece through and through. Characters pull in and out of focus, but each has their own individual arc. The members of the unit are assigned nicknames, their real names are never revealed. Rather than the names being dissociative from the personalities of the unit they actually come to represent and in many cases define the individuals who bare them. Bigfoot (Moises Arias) grows increasingly clumsy and reckless as the film progresses, his name takes on a multitude of meanings by the time the audience arrives at the shattering conclusion.
The filmmaking is incredibly fluid; the transitions between locations are weaved together through match-cuts creating powerful ellipses in time where it feels as though the unit is slipping from one event to the next, as if the moments we are allowed glimpses of are the few minutes where they are collectively lucid before disappearing back into the inescapably-bizarre-trance of the jungle surrounding them. The cinematography is a sight to behold, the juxtaposition between the simultaneous beauty and ugliness of the nature around these children is emphasized in gestures both grand and minute. The camera catches the dandruff caking their hair, the dried mud-cracking on their shoulders, while allowing for gorgeous landscape shots: clouds rolling over the mountains, a roaring river and a crumbling ruin.
Monos was a film I expected to be great but I could never have predicted would be so astounding. The film seems to be absent from many conversations about the years best movie, and there is no doubt in my mind that this is my personal favorite. Monos is continuously shocking and horrific, there is legitimate terror witnessing these children accept depravity as a lifestyle that I have not felt since Larry Clarke’s Kids. Slowly they are each reduced down to their most fundamental instincts, the face of the enemy becomes less distinct and survival presents itself as the primary objective. By the finale the nature of that survival too has contorted and is no longer as definite as it initially seemed.