2019 London Film Festival Winner – Best Film

On a mossy mountaintop high above the clouds, a paramilitary squad of teens trains for an unnamed war. They play soccer blindfolded when they’re not swinging around loaded rifles, and they call each other names like Smurf, Bigfoot and Rambo. (The film’s director, Alejandro Landes, is Brazilian-born, but he shot in Colombia – his title means ‘monkeys’.) The kids, mud-smudged refugees from Lord Of The Flies, pledge allegiance to something called the Organization and take their orders from a shifting high command.

Poster for the Colombian Oscar contender MonosYou won’t really know where it takes place – or when. Monos feels like an unsimulated version of basic training, and your sympathy for the actors grows as they hoist heavy logs over their heads or shiver in pits. Julianne Nicholson turns up as an American doctor and hostage who records her proof-of-life videos with an exhausted thousand-yard stare. Occasionally, there will be a harsh, synthesized rattle of squelchy noise, a rolling timpani or bloop – this is the music of Mica Levi, a composer whose radical scores for Under The Skin and Jackie have revolutionized soundtracks. (Her work here is fittingly anti-melodic and scattered.)

In between these atmospheric moments, something coheres in your head, a nightmarish thought. Is this our future? Child soldiering has made it to the screen before, but Monos doesn’t moralize like Beasts Of No Nation or City Of God. These are dead-eyed survivors. We get glimpses of the Western world on tv, a land of gummy bears and Beethoven; it may as well be a Marvel movie. Some of the characters attempt an escape, but Monos isn’t about that. It infiltrates a place inside you – a deeper anxiety that’s hard to shake.

– Joshua Rothkopf, Time Out

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