We‘re in an unnamed Latin American jungle, almost above the clouds. The local guerilla troupe is being visited by someone, who you guess must be their commander. He is diminuative, not much more that 4 feet you‘d guess, but has a barrel chest and is a hard task master. He leaves them with a cow, which they have to milk every day “otherwise it will explode” and a female US-American prisoner.
Every so often they do a photo opp with the prisoner, holding the front page of today’s paper, but most of the time they play around, playing blindfold football or having a communal trip on mushrooms. Did I mention that they’re barely into their teens? Or that they’ve been assigned cartoon names like Rambo, Smurf and Boom Boom?
There’s a lot new to see today, the first day indoor Berlin cinemas have opened since early March. And I specifically chose this one because a number of critics, including some that I trust and repect, absolutely raved about it. Well, let’s just say that I think I understand what they saw in it, but – the magnificent cinematography aside – it really didn’t do much for me.
Firstly, it was difficult to distinguish between the different characters, at least in my confused head. Now I realise that there’s a degree to which this is deliberate – showing the dehumanizing effect of war in general and child soldiers in specific, but I never really got any real sense of a group dynamic at play.
Secondly, and I think this is connected, nothing really happens. Well, that’s not exactly true, all sorts of things happen, but it seems to be just a whole lot of events separated by pauses in which not much happens at all. Maybe this will become clearer on a second watch, but I had the feeling that the film was deliberately disorientating me.
And then I got to thinking of the positive reviews, and all the plaudits that I could remember were all in relationship to other films. This was a new way of story-telling (it is), an impressive mixture of film, sound and atmosphere. And again, I can see all that. But I’d prefer new forms of story-telling to actually, you know, tell a story.
Yes, it looks and sounds great, but what is it about? I can’t really say, other than it was something to do with an unnamed group of child soldiers in an unnamed country in Latin America. Is the film for or against child soldiers? Well, insofar as they didn’t seem to be having too pleasant an experience, I guess its against, but you can’t really be sure.
This is a different argument that the one which says that the only decent film is one which has the right political line. I was talking only this morning about On the Waterfront, a great film which was an apologia for McCarthyism and scabbing. I disagree fundamentally with what its trying to say, but there is something there that you can engage with.
With Monos, you can enjoy the experience – and there really is a lot to enjoy, I can’t repeat often enough that it looks and sounds great – but when I left the cinema I didn’t feel it had added to my life at all. It somehow felt like the cinematic equivalent of Culture Club’s “The War Song” – well, yes I know that war, war is stupid, but you just banging on about it in that way doesn’t bring the argument forward any.
There are three possible explanations. It may be that its my fault and I just didn’t get it. This wouldn’t be the first time. It could be that I’ve forgotten how to respond to cinema and I need to do a couple of simpler films before I engage with Proper Cinema. But it may just be that this is a Critics’ Film – capable of garnering a great review in Sight and Sound, but having little bearing on the world as real people experience it.
Let’s see, shall we?