“Son of Monarchs” deals with immigration, but it is no ordinary border crossing story. The film, from director Alexis Gambis, resists the stereotypical formulas that Hollywood demands of Mexican dramas about immigration. Instead, he exploits the allegory of monarch butterflies to sketch an alternate journey of being and belonging.
Mendel (a phenomenal Tenoch Huerta) is a Mexican biologist who studies the genetic sequencing of monarchs. He recently moved from his Michoacán home, the animal winter refuge, to New York. The narrative structure is a collage, with radiant scenes of Mendel’s wide-eyed youth and icy images of his austere life in the United States. In no time, the scientist’s psyche crumbles as he struggles to leave home, reconcile spirituality with science, and piece together the fragments of childhood trauma and subsequent estrangement from his brother.
“Son of Monarchs” is ambitious and meditative, loaded with its characters’ philosophical reflections on the environment, cycles of life and identity. In his attempt to cover so much, he sometimes stumbles. While the slow pace requires patience, the magnificent visual world of cinematographer Alejandro Mejía has immense gifts that are well worth the wait. Mejía’s camera is graceful, respectful of the verdant, bucolic hills of Michoacán and the microscopic and irregular surface of a chrysalis. It’s a broader statement about the planet’s endangered treasures under catastrophic climate change. The rich imagery of the film will imprint itself in your memory and come back to you in dreams.
Sons of monarchs
Rated R for disturbing images and explicit language. In English and Spanish, with subtitles. Duration: 1 hour 37 minutes. In theaters.