Regissør: Alejandro Landes
(Colombia, Argentina, Nederland, Tyskland, Sverige)

YOUTH IN WAR / Despite its many references to, among other things, the Lord of the Flies and the Apocalypse now! Latin American Monos is in many ways a unique film.


In a deserted mountain landscape in Latin America, presumably in Colombia, we meet a group of youngsters who go by tire names like Rambo, Lady, Dog, Smurf and Bigfoot. They constitute the guerrilla troop Monos ("monkeys") and fight for an organization that is only referred to as the organization. Their primary task is to look after an American hostage they call Doctora, who we later know is an engineer named Sara Watson. In addition, they are given responsibility for the dairy cow Shakira – which will also have consequences for the development of the action.

Discipline and anarchy

The feature film portrays the paramilitary group in both hard physical training and free play – as well as some sexual testing situations typical of their age. However, the discipline is clear: Since Lady and fellow soldier Wolf want to start a relationship, they must ask permission from the organization's representative. However, after the latter leaves the group to himself under Wolf's leadership, certain elements of what might be called youthful anarchy in the ranks arise.

The kidnapped woman seems to have been affected to some extent by the so-called Stockholm Syndrome, where she is introduced in friendly dialogue with two young guerrilla girls who wash and care for her hair. A little later, though reluctantly, she participates in a bizarre whipping ritual in connection with the birthday of the androgynous boy Rambo (who is otherwise played by a girl). But as the troop has to abandon the base and move into the jungle, it is becoming increasingly clear that Watson is working purposefully to escape the captivity.

Sensual presence

Jumpsuits is certainly an intense movie, but no plot-driven thriller in the classic sense. The relatively simple action often comes in the background of the observations of soldiers' training and play, which are not always easy to distinguish from one another. The film also provides no background information on the various members of the guerrilla group or the military conflict in which they participate. Instead, director Alejandro Landes is keen to create a presence, a here and now. Photographer Jasper Wolf's panoramas of the mighty landscape sometimes contrast with the close-ups of the young soldiers, but to an equally great extent their experience of being in nature and with each other is highlighted. Often in a dreamlike and almost surreal way.

It is perhaps not surprising that this aspect is most prominent in a sequence where some of the youngsters "trip" on hallucinogenic fungi. Equally telling is the film's emphasis on the sensual that these scenes, which do not have a particularly obvious feature in the plot, are experienced as well as the sequence in which their base in the mountains is under attack.

At the heart of the film, however, is the description and exploration of the dynamics within the group, separate from them from adults and the world. Here, youth are constantly awakened, with hormones and drives that easily override impulse control – even with weapons in hand and military command lines to follow.

Monos Director Alejandro Landes
Director Alejandro Landes

Rich in references

Visually speaking, is Jumpsuits Well done, but also the film music signed by Mica Levi (U, Jackie) contributes significantly to the distinctive cinematic experience. With a combination of electronic and acoustic elements, her soundtrack alternates between the melodic and the experimental – and is sometimes in the border country between film music and sound design.

Central to this is the description of the dynamics of the group, separate from adults
and the world otherwise.

Jumpsuits is a film that formally asks for "namedropping" from us in the critic stand. An obvious reference is William Golding's novel lord of the Flies, with its portrayal of power struggles and group dynamics among young people without the presence of adults. However, the film also contains several distinct "greetings" to Francis Ford Coppola's war movie classic Apokalypse nå! (which by the way is an adaptation of Joseph Conrad's The Heart of Darkness), including an important scene with a boat on its way up a river and an evocative sequence where the young people paint themselves in the face with mud. In addition, the sensuality of the film language can create associations with American filmmaker Terrence Malick, but also with French Claire Denis. Not least, there are several similarities between Jumpsuits and Denis' masterful alien legion drama Good job.

Well played and fascinating

The acting performance of the young cast members is generally very strong, which is no less impressive because most people have little or no previous film experience. The broadest actor background of the youth is Moises Arias (Bigfoot), who previously played in The Stanford Prison Experiment and the TV series Hannah Montana. "Doctora" Watson is played on his side by Julianne Nicholson, known from movies and series like Masters of Sex og Boardwalk Empire. She makes an outstanding effort in a physically demanding role and balances glimpses of empathy with her kidnappers with despair, exhaustion, resignation and raw acting.

Despite its many references to other works are experienced Jumpsuits as an original and in many ways unique film. With its theme of child soldiers, guerrilla warfare and hostage-taking, the narrative's political social relevance is quite obvious. Still, it is not easy to grasp exactly what the film really has in mind. But it is also not certain that it is intended to be summarized in a clear message. Instead, it conveys the moods, states and intricate group dynamics, in a sugary, fascinating and different cinematic experience.

Jumpsuits has Norwegian cinema premiere on 21 February.

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