!Viva¡ #4: Los colores de la montaña (Colombia 2010)

The boys, Manuel (HERNÁN OCAMPO), Poca Luz (GENARO ARISTIZÁBAL) and Julián (NOLBERTO SANCHEZ), set out to retrieve their ball.

After the disappointment of El árbol, it was a relief to turn to the more traditional pleasures of Los colores de la montaña. The colours in question are provided by the crayons with which the central character, 9 year-old Manuel, draws the landscapes around his mountain home in the Pradera region of Colombia. Unfortunately, Pradera is one of the parts of the country where the FARC guerrillas have been active – and where the Colombian security forces attempt to hunt them down (along with any collaborators amongst the local population).

Manuel has a second passion – football. His is the old battered football that the local boys use and he plays in goal. His two friends are the seemingly older and more worldly Julián and Poca Luz, an albino boy with weak eyesight and poor co-ordination. Manuel is oblivious of both the presence of the soldiers and guerrillas in the area – and of the effects stress in his parents’ troubled relationship. His father is under pressure to go to meetings organised by the guerrillas and his mother wants them to leave the area altogether. When his father buys him a new football Manuel is delighted but then frustrated when the ball lands in a patch of ground that turns out to have been mined. The boys are banned from trying to retrieve it. But these are small boys with determination.

From this material, writer-director Carlos César Arbeláez has fashioned an engrossing tale that plays out in two strands. He coaxes remarkable performances from the three boys and takes us back to universal stories of childhood and at the same time exposes the horrors of living in what is in effect a warzone where the local smallholders have an impossible task in staying on the right side of both guerrillas and security forces. Almost bridging the worlds of the children and the adults is a third strand concerning the arrival of a new and enthusiastic teacher for the village school. Her resolve is going to be tested by the falling school roll as families leave the village and the pressure mounts. What makes the film interesting, I think, for film students is the symbolic role of the ‘football in the minefield’ – the passion and the cancer of Colombian society – and the focus on the school.

Manuel and Poca Luz contemplate the graffiti on the school wall.

In many ways this could be a film for children since they lead the central narrative, but some of the scenes of brutality and the sheer terror of the boys approaching the ball in the minefield perhaps means that it is not suitable for younger children. !Viva¡ gave the film an advisory 12A Certificate.

The director has a background in documentary and this is his first feature. The documentary background is clear in the presentation of the landscape and the routines of the village community. Most of the actors are non-professionals from the region. Arbeláez cites Iranian Cinema and directors such as Truffaut and Louis Malle as inspirations. There is a press pack and other material available via this link to World Cinema Day organised by Global Studies at the University of Wisconsin which is using the film for an education event. !Viva¡ included an education event for students taking Spanish GCSE. Kudos to them for making use of the opportunity. I hope a UK distributor takes note because this is certainly the kind of film that should be available for education work over here.

The subtitled trailer gives a good indication of the pleasures of the film:

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