Monos (2019; Alejandro Landres)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, October 4, at the Tower Theatre in Sacramento.
Brazilian director Landres delivers a powerful experience with this story of child soldiers losing their minds and souls. Monos is equally raw and phantasmagoric, beautiful and ugly. Landres uses every single piece in the train set, mixing styles and tones like a mad doctor, never allowing the audience to grow complacent. The film boasts the scope and poetry of Apocalypse Now or The Deer Hunter, if not the strong characters and story momentum.
“Teenagers Being Teenagers”
Monos opens with silhouettes on a muddy mountaintop, eight kids playing blindfold soccer in a remote location in the clouds. The mostly teenage soldiers all bear demeaning names like Dog, Wolf, Rambo and Smurf. They work for The Organization, a rebel group engaged in an ill-defined war in an unknown country. A drill instructor shows up periodically, but otherwise, the machine gun-toting youngsters get left on their own.
Therefore, they do what kids do. They kill time, whether by dancing, sleeping, fighting or fooling around. Their only responsibilities: guard a valuable American hostage and take care of a milk cow named Shakira. Teenagers being teenagers, though, neither of those things goes well, and the soldiers must abandon their position in the clouds. Out in the wilderness, they go full pig’s head on a stick, as even the smallest semblance of order gets rejected.
Julianne Nicholson steals the show as the hostage, a hazily sketched woman referred to as Doctora. The extended sequence where Doctora escapes, only to encounter a nightmare of bug swarms, flash floods and food rations, is a definite highlight.
However, Landres fills Monos with unforgettable touches, from a mushroom trip that morphs into a night-vision battle to a TV documentary about gummy bears. Meanwhile, another excellent score from Under the Skin composer Mica Levi perfectly complements the film’s pervasive intensity.
Monos is not a great film, but Landres shows signs of greatness.