The Colours Of The Mountain

The Colours Of The Mountain


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Capturing the essence and tension of an invisible danger that could erupt at any moment is no mean feat, but Carlos César Arbeláez most assuredly manages it with his debut feature, which first creates a bucolic scene so that the oncoming threat is shown in stark relief. Set in a village deep in the La Pradera region of the Colombian countryside, the sense of the natural surroundings is acute, from the verdant colours of the film's title to the sound of birdsong and the whirr of crickets - acting as a backdrop for the games that little Manuel (played beautifully by Hernan Ocampo) plays with his friends Paco Luz and Julian. Chief among them is football. Manuel is a keen goalie and dreams of making it big, so the arrival of a brand new ball on his ninth birthday is like manna from heaven.

But while he and his pals may be largely oblivious to the larger picture, their parents are not. Although the villagers are mostly peasant farmers, they find themselves caught between guerilla fighters and an armed government military determined to quash the rebels. Manuel's father is doing his best to avoid being tainted by association with the guerillas, but the situation is volatile and many of the family's neighbours are leaving.

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The closeness of danger is brought home when the kids accidentally kick their ball outside the bounds of their make-shift football pitch into what, we soon discover, has been turned into an impromptu guerilla minefield. Despite dire warnings from their parents - and a basic understanding of the danger of the mines - the kids are determined to get the ball back by hook or by crook and Arbeláez creates some almost unbearably tense moments as a result. There are parallels to be drawn between the stubborness of the children to try to reach their ball and the stubborness of Manuel's father to continue life as normal, even though the way he is treading could spell disaster. The idea of hidden but very real threat is also illustrated by emotionally rich scenes in which the school's teacher and her class create a mural featuring a cute pastoral scene in order to cover up guerilla graffiti reading "Put on a uniform or die a civilian".

Shot almost entirely from the children's perspective, Arbeláez tackles universal themes of conflict and its impact on ordinary people without getting mired in specific politics. He deftly shows how quickly normality can disintegrate when conflict appears on the horizon. And despite having serious subject matter, he has a lightness of touch, an avoidance of outright displays of violence and an eye for the comedic that means older children could enjoy this as much as adults. Arbeláez was a deserving winner of the New Director's award at San Sebastian Film Festival last year and this sweetly powerful debut suggests he's a name to look out for in future.

Reviewed on: 10 Mar 2011
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The Colours Of The Mountain packshot
A boy and his pals in a mountainside village find their lives under the threat of conflict.
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Director: Carlos César Arbeláez

Writer: Carlos César Arbeláez

Starring: Hernán Mauricio Ocampo, Nolberto Sánchez, Genaro Aristizábal, Hernán Méndez, Natalia Cuellar

Year: 2010

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: Colombia, Panama


SSFF 2010
Viva 2011

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