Mosquito - International Film Festival Rotterdam review

★★★★

Directed by #JoãoNunoPinto

Starring: #JoãoNunoMonteiro #FilipeDuarte #JoãoLagarto

Film review by #NathanialEker


It’s fair to say that WWI is a well-covered filmic topic. However, what isn’t as often documented, is the lesser known conflict between Germany and Portugal in Africa. Set against a scorching Mozambique, Mosquito considers a number of weighted themes, some more successfully than others. Director João Nuno Pinto’s rejection of a linear narrative creates a film that evolves as it progresses. The result is an other-worldly tone, and a firm hand from a bold director, unafraid of shoving his audience into the same fever dreams that his protagonist endures.


Zacarias (Monteiro) is a private in the Portuguese military. Armed with the dangerous combination of devout nationalism and boyish naivety, this seventeen-year-old toy soldier burns with a radical passion for his country. Taking two native men into the jungle with him to find his lost platoon, he finds himself isolated in the heart of a volatile landscape. Through encounters with locals, animals, and opposing forces, his greatest battle ultimately lies in wrestling with his own sanity.


A character driven experience, Mosquito lives and dies by the truth of its lead. Fortunately then, Monteiro’s performance is exceptional. The young actor delivers an exhausting spectrum of emotion across 125 minutes, allowing us to witness his greatest sins, his lowest degradation, and his ultimate transformation. Pinto crafts a stark depiction of the morally grey, crafting a character that demonstrates every facet of the human condition; he’s flawed and easily led, yet also masterfully empathetic.


As the synopsis playfully notes, Mosquito is a war film without war. Yes, there are guns and uniforms and other typical iconography, but this is a battle of the self. At its core, hidden beneath layers of themes and history, it’s the story of a young man learning the value of human life and the bitter irony of devout patriotism. This of course opens the floodgates for thematic commentary aplenty; the striking long shot of a group of black men carrying white soldiers on their shoulders doesn’t need its symbolism and importance explained.


Despite delivering a personal affair, the social scope of Mosquito is vast. Many issues are raised. The subjugation of women, PTSD, rape, and many more inevitably leave the film overwhelmed and crowded. Zacarias meets a multitude of interesting players that slowly broaden his horizons, but each disappear before we really get to know them. The pacing is also problematic, favouring a top-heavy approach comprising of a drawn-out opening sequence and a rushed (and let’s face it, pretty silly) finale. For a film that otherwise tackles historical and social issues with such a rousing verisimilitude, its conclusion is out of place at best and utterly farcical at worst.


Pinto’s command of the mise-en-scené, however, is far more effective. Quite uniquely, the aesthetic evolves alongside the protagonist. In its initial format, it’s simplistic, shot with wide angles, and is characterised by a militaristic visual style and soundscape. However, just as Zacarias shifts from a stiff, formal posture to elegantly gliding on all fours, so does the mise-en-scené shift into something beastly, almost feral. His hallucinogenic episodes become synonymous with a shallow depth of field that removes him from real world. The most horrific moments of his nightmares are shown in explicit detail, with long takes to fully explore the implications of every action and sting us that bit harder.


The cherry on top of this intuitive approach to visual storytelling is the transcendent score that blends the diegetic with the fabricated. While at times we might endure the emotional lament of a drunk sergeant, synthetic orchestrations are used in equal measure. Zacarias is afforded a leitmotif of sorts, one so inorganic that it feels more at home in the neo noir world of Blade Runner than a film set in WWI. This distancing from the typicalities of what we know to be a war film only adds a sharper edge to Mosquito’s already bloody machete.


Mosquito is a film that excels in crafting discomfort and uncertainty. Typical of art cinema, it poses many big questions, with few concrete answers. A fierce character study with many important tangents, this ferocious examination of the human condition is a tale of war like none other. Though not free of problems, its analysis of dangerous hyper masculine behaviour and propaganda are critical, and remain startlingly relevant in today’s volatile world. Monteiro stuns and bar a few minor niggles, so does Mosquito.



#NathanialEker #IFFR #InternationalFilmFestivalRotterdam #IFFR2020