AKA: Los Colores de la Montaña
Year Released: 2010
Distributor: Film Movement
Running Time: 93 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Land and Shade, Before Your Eyes, The Sandlot, Offside
-This is the debut film from Colombian director Carlos Cesar Arbelaez.
-The Colors of the Mountain won the Kutxa New Director’s Award at the an Sebastian Film Festival. The cash prize was $120,000, by the way.
-Language Bonus: The albino kid known as Poca Luz is Spanish for “low light”. This nickname could refer to the fact that someone like him would be sensitive to lots of sunlight.
-Breaking the Fourth Wall: Poca Luz’s real name is Genaro Aristizabal in the movie, but that’s also Poca Luz’s actor’s real life name.
-The entire film consisted of non-professional actors.
-Parts of the plot are based on the real life Colombian conflict which is the longest civil war in the Americas. It started in 1964 and there was a ceasefire in 2016. To put this in perspective, if Manuel were a real person, this ceasefire wouldn’t have happened until he turned 15 years old. Their president Juan Manuel Santos won a Nobel Peace Prize for his attempts to stop the conflict.
-The Colors of the Mountain was filmed in the Antioquia province. Interestingly enough, it’s the Spanish word for “Antioch”. Also, it’s the same province where Medellin is located which is the second-largest city in that country.
Looks like I’m back to Colombia when it comes to reviewing international films again. I reviewed Land and Shade which I thought was a good, if not great film. One of my biggest go-to references to indie cinema from around the world would be none other than Film Movement. I like how the website even categorizes their distributed filmography by country as one option and it’s very impressive with how many nations are represented by that company. This time, I checked out one of their Colombian titles to see how good it was.
The Colors of the Mountain takes place in an unnamed rural Andean village in Colombia. It’s a very small town with lots of farmland, small houses, a makeshift soccer field, and a big one-room school that the teacher lives in residence while the students range from first to fifth grade. There’s a boy named Maunel Cano who recently turns nine years old and he loves to be the goalie whenever he plays soccer with his friends in the village. On his birthday, he gets a brand new soccer ball and goalie gloves which he shows off to hid friends. On the next day, one of his friends Julian (pronounced Hoo-Lee-Ahn) kicks the ball outside of the soccer field which happens to be near an abandoned minefield where everybody finds out after a loose pig gets blown up by one of the mines. The children are forbidden to play around the soccer field because of this reason. To make matters worse, the town has a problem involving both armed guerrillas and their paramilitary. Manuel, Julian, and their mutual friend Poca Luz take matters into their own hands in trying to get the soccer ball back.
For a debut film from an upcoming director, I was impressed with this film. While it’s not neorealistic like the works of Jafar Panahi or Miraz Bezar, this situation is still believable. The cinematography is beautiful revealing the mountainous Colombian countryside which is both idyllic with all it’s colors, yet there’s an underlying dread with some of the ravaged areas by the armed groups on both sides. There’s a near documentary-like level of visual portrayal, but it looks very nice without feeling so enhanced. The Colors of the Mountain looks like it was made with a bigger budget than one would expect.
The characters were quite believable and felt like real people. Manuel acts like a normal kid as he would rather play soccer or draw instead of farming or doing schoolwork. He has dreams of being a goalie as he looks at a poster while pretending to block a goal with his hands before falling asleep. He’s also unaware with the danger that’s around him as Manuel still has that childlike innocence despite the chaos around the village. Genaro “Poca Luz” Aristizabal is the albino kid who tends to be wimpy and afraid of so many things like he’s an older version of Chuckie Finster from Rugrats. He tends to be concerned about so many things and cries, but the thing is some of his fears are defensible. Poca Luz is more aware of the dangers around him and he even calls out Julian for not being the main one to get the soccer ball. He also has visual impairments and is possibly legally blind, so he gets rightfully scared when he loses his glasses when he tries to get the ball. One ensemble dark horse was the teacher Carmen. She’s the new teacher in the village. Carmen wants the kids to do their best even when some of them leave as their families escape for safer towns and cities. There’s a powerful scene with one of her lesson plans where despite pressure from other townsfolk, she and the kids paint a mural at the side of the schoolhouse which covers up the graffiti propaganda about joining the Colombian conflict. They end up making an elaborate painting of the town with several colors which is a very iconic feel-good scene with so much meaning and depth to it.
The Colors of the Mountain isn’t without shortcomings though. Despite the beautiful visuals, the editing could’ve used some work. The most obvious thing to me was the overabundance of the “fade to black” transition. I’m sure this happened more than a dozen times and I was really distracted as half of those scenes didn’t need such dramatic fades. The Julian character was unintentionally more unlikable than I thought. Julian should’ve taken more responsibility to get the soccer ball even though the kids weren’t allowed to. He uses Poca Luz to do his dirty work to get the ball which is really uncomfortable to watch given how close they were to the original mine that struck the sow. While not as overt as Land and Shade, there were some poverty porn elements. There was also a realization about the soccer ball subplot. The Colors of the Mountain might be a more dangerous version of The Sandlot if one really thinks about it. Instead of worrying about some dog named Hercules or owner, they have to worry about mines, guerrillas, and paramilitary troops. To reference that blind man from the aforementioned movie, Manuel, Julian, and Poca Luz would be more than just in trouble, they could be dead where they stand as they attempt this plan. That was a bit unoriginal to me even though the film wasn’t just about the soccer ball.
This Colombian film was certainly worth the watch. The portrayal of innocence amidst the armed conflict around the village was spot-on. I also give the creators props for not choosing to take sides as both sides contributed to the underlying chaos. The camera work was exquisite despite some overdone editing choices like the transitions. The plot feels real and I could totally believe that situation happening at the heart of the Colombian conflict in this rural town. I did have some issues with Julian’s character even though he does develop and the ending could’ve been paced better. This is a very good film that people should see at least once.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like realistic dramas.
Subtract 1-2 points if you don’t like war conflicts as undertones in your films.
-Believable characters and plotting
-Great subtle anti-war message
-Julian’s character and PCM
-Overabundance of fading to black for transitions
-Pacing issues in the ending
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: Most of the major characters in The Colors of the Mountain are children, but the content is better suited for teens and up. The implications of the minefields and the Colombian conflict will be lost on younger viewers. The last act of the film involves blood with some people getting attacked and one scene has a dead body on a horse galloping back in town as a horrific message against the other side (spoilers avoided). One man slaps his wife when he gets angry in one scene. The language is mild at first, but it gets ramped up with the paramilitary’s presence.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. The Colors of the Mountain is property of Carlos Cesar Arbelaez and Film Movement. The DVD cover is from Film Movement and is property of Film Movement.