Front Row at the Movies by Shirrel Rhoades

5/5 (1)

“Monos” is a Colombian film that won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award at Sundance. And it is that country’s entry in the upcoming 92nd Academy Awards.

The film was directed by Alejandro Landes Echavarría, a Colombian-Ecuadorian filmmaker who was born in Brazil. He is best known for “Cocalero,” a documentary about a presidential campaign in Bolivia.

In this fascinating film, we learn that Monos is the name of a group of commandos – eight kids with guns – doing training exercises on a mountaintop somewhere in Latin America. All of them go by noms de guerre – names like Rambo, Bigfoot, Dog, and Boom Boom. They are periodically overseen by the Messenger (Wilson Salazar), a mysterious emissary from an unnamed organization.

These child soldiers are holding an American prisoner known as Doctora (Julianne Nicholson). Also the Messenger leaves a cow named Shakira in their care.

Wolf and Lady get permission from the Messenger to form a relationship, but she’s not much of a lady, moving from sexual partner to sexual partner.

Doctora makes several attempts to escape. So does Rambo.

Bigfoot (Moises Arias) takes control of the unit. Several members of Monos get killed as they turn against each other.

The youngsters live a feral existence in isolation far from civilization. Filming took place in the ethereal Chingaza National Park in the Eastern Ranges of the Colombian Andes and at rarely-seen jungle settings on the Samana River. Oxygen was sparse in the high altitudes. Everyone got sick with something in the jungle. The nine-week production was difficult. “The film took everybody to the limits,” says Alejandro Landes.

“Monos” is currently playing at Tropic Cinema.

“I like to think of it more of a tattoo than a picture,” says Landes. This survival adventure story is a metaphor for Colombia’s uneasy peace after years of civil war, he tells us.

“There was this very young and fragile dream of hope in Colombia and I saw that coming and the film was a desire to make something that flirted with the war genre and had that Buñuel idea of film as a waking dream.”

American actress Julianne Nicholson joins former Disney child actor Moises Arias and a cast of Colombian unknowns. Landes put them through a boot camp so they would bond. They slept in tents in the jungle and ate rations.

“Every day was a beast,” observes Landes. “The lines between paradise and hell are very thin.”

The final cut? Think of it as an updated version of “Lord of the Flies” in glorious color and exotic locations.

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