Film review: Monos

By Julio Bedón August 15, 2019

Every time you enter a movie theatre, it is with a small frisson of hope about the film you are about to see. Sadly, that hope is often disappointed.

Photo: Courtesy of Dynamo

So when you find a film that is able to blow your mind – when that big screen completely envelops you in its story – you know you are in front of a masterpiece. This is the case with Monos, a film that is, without a doubt, the best Colombian movie of the year.

Monos tells the story of a group of guerrilla bandits who must face the many threats that come from outside their community as well as within it. On the surface Monos appears to be a film about the Colombian conflict, but that is where the story is set, it is not what it is about at all.

The film is actually about the human condition, which is explored through the main characters, a group of teenagers or “monos”. While we can see influences of films like Apocalypse Now (1979) and books like Lord of the Flies, the film stands as an original achievement in its own right.

Themes of sexuality, fraternity, trust and loyalty all play out as the group dynamics are developed to the point where we understand the role each person plays in this community. We see how they interact, what they want and what they fear.

With a great cast and crew that managed to deliver an outstanding piece of cinema, the film has gained well-deserved critical acclaim at film festivals all over the world.

The solid screenplay provides each character with a unique personality, both internally and in the flesh. The audience is able to easily identify with each one of the monos – something that, surprisingly, is hard to find in ensemble cast movies nowadays.

Whether they are performing as a group, as couples, or alone, there is an honesty and artlessness in the work of these actors. While not the leader of the group, Moises Arias stands out as the one with the strongest presence and also delivers some of the film’s most memorable moments.

The characters are all the richer for the lack of history, since we can only imagine where they come from and why they are where they are, which draws us into the film. In fact there is deliberately little backstory at all. Little is known about this group of guerrillas, what – or who – they are fighting for, who the woman they have captive is and how she got into that predicament. But this does not harm the film because the dynamics of the group allow us to fill the voids. And in the end it doesn’t really matter, it’s not a priority for the storyteller.

Related: Reviews on many other Colombian films

To call the film Colombian is just giving it a name tag, since the director, Alejandro Landes, avoids any direct reference to Colombia, or to any country at all in the movie. His goal was to make the tale as universal and timeless as possible, which better allows the film to plumb the depths of human nature.

It is important to re-stress that Monos is not a war movie, it’s a long way from that. For starters, the violence is not embellished or shocking, it’s actually quite raw. When conflict arises, the camera stands back in a very omnipresent way. But when we are in an intimate moment between the characters – which is what Landes wants to focus on –  the camera gets in really close. It is the cast who are at the heart of the story, not the setting. 

Monos has its own personality and it’s not hard to see why the movie stands out among a huge offering of national and international films. Its stunning cinematography was some of the best I’ve seen in a long time, the amazing cast carried the movie on their shoulders and the thrilling soundtrack emphasized the constant tension between the characters. Outstanding.

4/5 stars

Monos opens in Colombian theatres today