September 21, 2001

Our Lady of the Assassins


Academy Award-nominated film director Barbet Schroeder returns to his international roots with his first foreign-language film in sixteen years. Our Lady of the Assassins. Raised in Colombia, fascinated and horrified by the changes his beloved country has undergone, Schroeder had long wanted to make a film there. The film opened in Colombia creating great scandal and controversy. The public was moved and receptive to the humor of the film in the end. In Fernando Valle-jo's searing and controversial 1994 novel, La Virgen de los Sicarios, the filmmaker finally found a parable of innocence crucified and the story he had to tell.

Determined to capture both the harsh reality and the dying colonial dream of the city in which the drama is set, Schroeder and his crew confronted virtual war zone conditions. Using a breakthrough high definition video style, a movie about the curse of casual violence was shot in an atmosphere in real life chaos. There was no safe way to make this picture and make it true. A prototype of the film director as adventurer, Barbet Schroeder incorporated the danger into the filmmaking process.

From one vantage point, Our Lady of the Assassins is a passionate personal myth of love lost, regained, and then lost again. Viewed from a different angle, the same story is a cold-eyed, deep-focus depiction of the gradual "anesthesia" that infects daily life in a city gone mad with violence. Shocking, tender, deeply felt and politically provocative, Our Lady of the Assassins explores both the everyday terror and extraordinary ritual grace of life in a place where love and crime collide.


Fernando (German Jaram-illo) is a respected world-weary writer, coming home to his memories --in all probability, coming home to Medellín to die. No longer young, Fern-ando is open about his personal life -- he is homosexual. Yet long experience in erotic adventure doesn't begin to prepare him for a Medellín where fireworks mask the sound of gunfire, where street signs warn against the dumping of corpses, where the chief consequence of a cold-blooded stalk-down killing in the streets is a five-minute traffic jam. Medellín is a city where death happens all the time. Yet it is where Fernando is to rediscover his life. It is where he will find love.

Alexis (Anderson Balles-teros) is a tough street kid caught up in constant street-corner conflict. The rule of the gun is all he has ever known. Alexis has killed a few already in the gang war game, and he expects that, someday soon, he will be killed. He cherishes firearms and zones out to the beat of rock n'roll. When he encounters Fernando, the older man is simply a means to an end. Yet, unexpectedly, the relationship between writer and teenage gangster grows deep-er, more complex.

Any love between these two is by definition a devil's bargain. Fernando can observe the spiral of vengeance that is Alexis' career, even start to live within its fatalistic codes, but he cannot stop its headlong course.

For Alexis, killing is part of the fabric of his life, the natural consequence of a squabble in the street or a complaint from a neighbor about a stereo played too loud. The boy is a new sort of Exterminating Angel, one without regrets. Death loses its sting -- killing has become a new religion. Fernando soon loses any sense of the stability of church-ridden city he once had known, cutting himself off from horror as he opens himself to love.

However, when Alexis is gunned down in a brutal motorcycle drive-by, a large part of Fernando dies as well. In his grief and guilt, he seeks out Alexis' mother in the dangerous hillside slums of the city. He offers the poor woman money and she tells him what everyone on the hillside already knows: that Alexis was killed by a gunman known only by the strange nickname "The Blue Lagoon." Later, walking the streets in sleepwalk mourning, Fernando sees another boy -- one he at first thinks is Alexis' reincarnation.

Wilmar (Juan David Res-trepo) seems to share both Alexis' arrogance and his vulnerability. He has the same love for his sidearm, the same devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He wears a similar jacket and has a near-identical fatalist streak. A new romance takes root and grows stronger, eerily echoing the days and nights with Alexis. Then Fernando learns a secret about Wilmar's past -- a secret that deepens even further the connection between the two young men.

"Our Lady of the Assassins" is now playing at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas. The film is in Spanish.

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