Alejandro Landes’ war drama Monos, Colombia’s official entry for the 92nd Oscars, looks at a group of teenage terrorists (known as the Monos), commanded by shadowy mission leaders, who are training for battle while guarding a prisoner (Julianne Nicholson) and a milk cow. And with South Korea’s Oscar entry, the highly lauded Parasite, Bong Joon Ho offers an ink-black comedy thriller about the members of a poor family who together scheme to work in wealthy household by posing as unrelated, highly qualified help.
Both films concern worlds that ultimately spin way out of control, and Monos has that idea built into it. Things go tragically wrong in the film Landes created to emphasize the messiness of warfare while dispelling any of its romantic notions.
“We tried to take the situation of adventure, with a bunch of kids on top of a mountain with no one to tell them what to do, and turn it on its head,” Landes told the DGA Theater crowd. Speaking of the Colombian jungle and river canyon where Monos was made, Nicholson added, “We were living in tents, walking in places where I don’t know if people ever walked there before. There was no electricity, no running water, it pissed with rain every night, it was insane but I also got to be with incredible people going for this incredible thing every day.”
To Landes, who used 60 years of civil war in Colombia as main inspiration, the film is “about who we are and it looks at the beast within. I created a war film where you don’t know what it is to win.” It has already won the World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and has taken Best Film at the London Film Festival.
For Bong’s Parasite—the first Korean film to win the Palme d’Or at Cannes—it’s the series of extraordinary rollercoaster twists that makes it such an unforgettable social commentary on the disparity of wealth. “Bong always tells me about his projects a couple of years prior,” said the film’s star, Song Kang Ho of this, his fourth collaboration with the director, which includes 2013’s global warming thriller Snowpiercer. “But this time, he handed me a script and a piece of paper that was a [non-disclosure agreement] I had to sign saying, if I leak anything they will sue me.”
Bong, who like Song was speaking through an interpreter, then joked in English, “We never sue each other.”
The pair’s familiarity came through in the ease Song brought to the pivotal head of the poor household who becomes the chauffeur for a wealthy IT CEO. “I think my character is within all of us,” Song told the audience. “We all want to try to live the best life we can but our environments don’t always allow us. There’s always comedy and tragedy mixed in.”
For Bong, there was certainly comedy and nearly some tragedy in the creation of the two incredibly unique houses where 90 percent of the film’s action famously took place. “I did a lot of sketches of the basic structures,” said the director of all his prep work prior to filming. “When I finished, I handed them to the production designer and said, ‘These sketches are necessary for blocking’” the film. “But the production designer had to consult an actual architect to design them and when the architect saw them he said, ‘No idiot would build those houses this way.’”
It was Bong’s insistence on his vision that brought both the houses, and the outrageous story, to life. “I said, ‘I need this structure, I need this!’ But the production designer was incredible; he suffered between me and the architect but managed to get approval to get it to come out the way I wanted.”
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