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Visually stunning masterpiece by author Alexis Gambis

From his first shot, Alexis Gambis Sons of monarchs is a gripping film that makes you think. The very first image audiences see – even before they meet protagonist Mendel (Tenoch Huerta) – is a close-up of a chrysalis carefully, almost lovingly, dissected in a puddle of clear liquid. This moment sets up the entire emotional experience of the film: an uncomfortable clash between science and spirituality, the mundane and the sacred, precariously balanced on the calm, hunched shoulders of a man struggling to reconcile his current position in the world. life with the demons of his past. Written and directed by French Venezuelan director (and biologist) Alexis Gambis, Sons of monarchs is a cleverly designed visual experience that weaves disparate themes and images.

The man who cuts the butterfly’s cocoon is Mendel, a scientist who seeks to identify and isolate the gene responsible for the distinct color of the monarch’s wings. Specifically, he is involved in finding the optix gene, identifying how it determines color and patterns, and finding ways to manipulate the isolated gene (by turning what should be orange scales on the wings of the butterfly). It’s a slightly controversial subject – at one point a character compares it to Dr. Frankenstein’s research in Mary Shelley’s classic novel – but for Mendel, it’s deeply contradictory work: his grandmother instilled in him a reverence for the monarch butterflies, which are said to migrate to the Michoacán forests surrounding his hometown in droves each year. Mendel may have devoted his professional life to the study of these delicate creatures, but in the process he destroys countless of them. It is this inner conflict that animates the story.

Visually stunning masterpiece by author Alexis Gambis

The film lacks a clear plot, instead offering a story told through vignettes that offer a glimpse into the protagonist’s inner life. A Mexican biologist working in New York, Mendel is an outsider – both among his peers in America but also at home in Angangueo, Mexico. The scientist obviously does not return home often, perhaps because of the bad blood between him and his brother, Simon (Noé Hernández); yet, it doesn’t seem out of place in New York City as well. He’s become too dependent on his friendship with fellow Mexican scientist Pablo (Juan Ugarte), and as a single, never-married middle-aged man, seems reluctant to form meaningful relationships or put down roots in his new home. .

Played softly by Huerta, Mendel appears mildly uncomfortable wherever he goes, often donning and removing various social masks as he takes on the roles of a happy peer, uncle, and boyfriend. Huerta delivers a beautifully nuanced performance in Sons of monarchs; the actor imbues every moment, every look, with a depth of meaning and emotion. Though he speaks softly, Huerta’s eyes are bold – bursting with emotion in one scene, then reflecting the dull glow of a traumatized mind in the next. As Mendel goes through his transformational journey, he stands slightly differently, slowly ignoring his “masks” and allowing his real self to emerge. Scene after scene, Huerta is a pleasure to watch.

Visually stunning masterpiece by author Alexis Gambis

Sons of monarchs is a daring film. Gambis maintains a thematic tension throughout the story, constantly pulling Mendel between two very different worlds. The colors orange and blue are a dominant motif depicting this, demonstrating the contrast of Mendel’s spiritual and secular lives. Thematically, Mendel’s inner turmoil is extended to offer a look at contemporary society: the violence inherent in scientific study, very intentionally juxtaposed with environmental devastation, all done for progress. Sons of monarchs does not categorically condemn these actions, suggesting instead that humanity and Mother Nature must find a way to coexist. It’s a ripe choice that opts for a more pragmatic approach to environmentalism – without stigmatizing people, like Simon, whose circumstances force them to work in occupations that they know harm the local environment.

Sons of monarchs is a visual treat, embracing a truncated, almost dreamlike rhythm, which complements the various surreal shots of Mendel’s memories and nightmares. Between the scenes are various scientific images from monarch butterfly research, presented for artistic effect. The film goes in the direction of being artistically indulgent without feeling pretentious or gratuitous; However, Sons of monarchs is a tough movie, and there’s no doubt some audiences will be put off by its psychological drama and visual storytelling. The loose plot structure adds an additional barrier that may deter some viewers: this is a film that must be actively watched and savored – for those who are just looking for entertainment, the work required to watch isn’t not worth it. Cinephiles, meanwhile, will rejoice in the lush visuals and daring staging of Sons of monarchs – and will undoubtedly keep an eye on the next Gambis project.

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