By Don Simpson | September 20, 2011
Director: Carlos César Arbeláez
Writer: Carlos César Arbeláez
Starring: Hernán Mauricio Ocampo, Genaro Aristizábal, Nolberto Sánchez, Natalia Cuéllar, Hernán Méndez
While the adults of the La Pradera region of Colombia live their lives in constant fear of the warring Colombian military and guerrilla rebels, young Manuel (Hernán Mauricio Ocampo) and his friends — especially Julián (Nolberto Sánchez) and Poca Luz (Genaro Aristizábal) — are obsessed with playing soccer any chance they get. The village, which boasts a predominantly peasant farming community, finds itself caught in the crossfire between guerrilla fighters and the government military. Neither side is “good” but the adults specifically try to avoid being tainted by any association with the guerrillas. Some adults attempt to hide the pervasive threat of danger from the children — such as when the teacher and her students paint a pastoral mural over propagandistic guerrilla graffiti. Eventually the situation becomes volatile enough that families begin to evacuate the village for safer environs.
Told primarily from the point of view of the children, The Colors of the Mountain portrays the adults as illogical, uptight and scared. By leaving a majority of the violence and mayhem of the guerrilla uprising off screen, writer-director Carlos César Arbeláez further accentuates the ridiculousness of the fearful and intimidated adults. The kids happily proceed with life as usual as the adults cower in hiding. The children cannot comprehend why their parents are afraid of the landmines on the soccer field, so when they are told that they cannot retrieve a wayward ball that Manuel just got as a birthday present, the children’s curiosity is piqued. The soccer ball thus becomes a symbol of the absurd reality of the civil war in Colombia, just as the bright colors worn by the children represent their happiness. Even a simple pick up game of soccer on a natural field of grass suddenly becomes dangerous. Nonetheless, the children are relentless in their pursuits to retrieve the ball — and, therefore, their freedom and happiness. As adult viewers, the invisible danger is unsettling, especially whenever it seems the kids are scheming an attempt to retrieve Manuel’s soccer ball.
Shot in the Colombian Andes Mountains, the lusciously green mountains frame nearly every shot with their foreboding grandeur. Natural also permeates the film via the sound of birds and crickets. Being that a location of such breathless natural beauty has so much tension and danger looming around it serves as a hefty statement about the effects of war on society and the environment.
Arbeláez won the New Directors Award at the San Sebastian International Film Festival for The Colors of the Mountain, which was recently released on DVD by Film Movement in the United States.