Appellate Judge Tom Becker prefers the Colors of the Mountain to the Colors of the Wind.
Arm the people! Victory or death!
Manuel is an 8-year-boy who lives with his family in a mountain village in Colombia. It's a poor, farming village, but Manuel is cared for and able to attend school. He has a number of friends, and their favorite thing to do is play soccer.
Manuel's village is far from idyllic. There is a civil war brewing, and both the guerilla fighters and the country's military are threats to the villagers. As much as Manuel's father and many of the other men wish to remain neutral and just live their lives, they are branded cowards or traitors if they don't choose a side.
Many of the villagers are fleeing their homes, leaving most of their possessions behind. Manuel's teacher and the other adults try to maintain normalcy as much as possible for the sake of the children, but they cannot keep the war from their doorstep.
On Manuel's birthday, he receives a great gift: a new soccer ball. But while playing with his friends, the ball winds up in a field. Before they have a chance to retrieve it, they find that the field has been mined. Slowly, Manuel and his friends come to realize that their world is a far more dangerous and debilitating place than they'd ever imagined.
The Colors of the Mountain is a simple story, beautifully told, a poignant, coming-of-age-too-quickly tale. Director Carlos Cesar Arbelaez and his talented cast of largely non-professional actors have created a film that is both gentle and harrowing, with a surprising amount of humor and a deeply felt message.
Save for a couple of scenes, the entire film is told from the viewpoint of children. As is so often the case with children, they seem barely aware of how bleak their circumstances are. In an early scene, Manuel is with his father, Ernesto, when the rebels come looking for him, angry that Ernesto has not been attending their meetings. Ernesto wants only to take care of his family and their farm and wants no part of the uprising; he cautions Manuel to be quiet while the rebels question his mother, who makes excuses, but Manuel seems oblivious to the danger, squirming, complaining, and loudly asking his hiding father questions. The children don't retrieve the ball from the mined field only because they've been ordered not to—though they still attempt to get it back using methods they think they can get away with. When their teacher, who knows that she must leave because of the conflict, tearfully orders the children to leave the classroom, they think she's playing, and they laugh.
By the end, of course, Manuel and his friends have seen their world upended, their innocence gone. The final shot—in which Manuel literally leaves his childhood behind—is powerful and haunting.
Film Movement, which releases independent and foreign films, has turned out a nice DVD for The Colors of the Mountain, with a strong image and a decent, if not remarkable, stereo audio track. Film Movement discs contain the feature as well as a short. The short on this disc is The Swimmers, a charming Cuban film about a children's swim coach who has to get his team ready for competition under particularly trying circumstances: there is no water for the pool they use for practice. Besides The Swimmer, there's a short essay by Arbelaez, an onscreen text bio for Arbelaez, information about Film Movement, and trailers for this film and other Film Movement releases.
The Colors of the Mountain is Arbelaez's first feature as a director; he is certainly someone to watch.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
• Short Film
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