A Chilean Christmas film steeped in family secrets, boozy beverages, sexual menace, and heaps of jockstraps, Cola de Mono (distributed by TLA Films) is both a striking vision of how identity can shift under the pressure that society wields and a sensual nightmare that messes with the parts of the brain that process desire and safety.
Borja (Cristobal Rodriguez-Costabal) is spending Christmas, 1986, with his mother Irene (Carmina Riego, who is like a Pedro Almodovar Stepford Wife) and his older brother Vicente (played by Rodriguez-Costabal’s actual brother Santiago). A strange kid with a twisted sense of humor and a deeply-felt need to push boundaries, Borja just wants to have a good time. He likes Stephen King novels, horror films, and being completely honest with the rest of the world, regardless of what they’re comfortable with.
As the family spends Christmas dinner knocking back a hearty batch of Cola de Mono (literally, “monkey’s tail,” but also a holiday drink reminiscent of eggnog but with brandy instead of rum—the film gives the drink its own title card, with recipe included), secrets start getting revealed. Before you know it, things spill out of the house and into the psychosexual fugue space of Santiago. Porno mags, cruising parks next to the highway, VHS tapes deliberately left unlabeled, and the mysteries of absent family members all come into play.
Writer/Director Alberto Fuguet spent some time in and around Nashville back in the early mid-2010s making his film Musica Campesina, a low-key docudrama that has helped to preserve much of the pre-gentrified parts of West Nashville that have now been demolished and replaced with condos and slivery mini-houses. He’s always demonstrated an eye for detail, and that hasn’t changed, but no aspect of Cola de Mono could be described as low-key. It’s got a stylized and vibrant color palette, a mood that swings from randy to menacing to silly and back again, and a willingness to address gay sexuality in ways that aren’t necessarily going to please everyone in the community.
That one of Fuguet’s main inspirations for the film is William Friedkin’s 1980 film maudit Cruising should be a hint-and-a-half for potential viewers. There are elements of Cola de Mono that could potentially wreck your evening, so it’s good to be aware up front that it’s kinky and salacious, with lots of bare ass and bare souls, but is also very rigorous and demanding in its structure and subject matter. Sex and violence get tangled up (comparison point: Brian De Palma’s erotic thrillers of the ‘80s), the real and the dreamed get all swirly deep in the hippocampus, and there may be a knife in that pocket as well as just being happy to see you.
If you’re interested in something out of the ordinary, Cola De Mono is available on DVD or via download/streaming from TLA Releasing out of Philadelphia. It’s in Spanish with English subtitles, and it’s a worthy addition to anyone’s collection of twisted Christmas films.
THE SPECIAL SHELF is an occasional film review column focusing on LGBTQIA cinema, both new and classic, that could benefit from your attention.
For examples of past film coverage, see: LGBT Filmmaker Featured By DEFY Film Festival; Queer and Southern God& — an LGBT film set in Tennessee — will premiere at Nashville Film Festival and many more.