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(Colombia): This is a fascinating character study of a group of teenage soldiers, named Monos, who report to a higher-order group called the Organization. The children are living in an old military fort and have responsibility for a hostage, an engineer they call Doctora. Things go well until one of the kids accidentally shoots a cow they were provided by the Organization; the leader kills himself, thinking he will be blamed. Unable to determine how to explain this to the Messenger (the Organization’s representative), things begin to turn more sinister as the child soldiers make their own way. There have been comparisons to Apocolypse Now and Lord of the Flies (and I will even throw in Hunger Games), and both are correct; where those are fiction, what is really compelling is the cross-over into the reality of wars that employ child soldiers. In the beginning, they are soldiers with a hostage who do teenager things – they make out, play rough and tumble games, joke with each other. But when things begin to turn against them, the film becomes an interesting study in human nature. The cinematography is incredible, and the rapidly changing scenes combined with the uniquely unsettling score create a rather hypnotic and dream-like “unreality”. Both together create a setting that isn’t bound by time or place. The acting is amazing, especially by Moises Arias, who played the new tribe leader, and what those kids pulled off in becoming their characters is astounding. I loved the choice for the last scene – ambiguous and haunting; the image remains even after the film ends. Big thumbs up for me for a film that is unique, creative, and visionary. I didn’t feel like it explored its themes as fully as it could have, but what is there definitely leaves an imprint that is hard to shake off. (2019; 4.5 Stars)

About Gary Burkholder

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