Our Lady of the Assassins

Our Lady of the Assassins (La Virgen de los Sicarios) focuses on Fernando (played by Germán Jaramillo), who was born in Medellín, Colombia, when it was a peaceful if boring farming community. His literary talents took him to Europe, where presumably he lived a full life but we are left to infer that he contracted AIDS. Now, in his late 50s, he returns to the town of his birth to die, or so he confesses to Alexis (played by Anderson Ballesteros), a teenage prostitute presented to him by a longtime friend Alfonso (played by Manuel Busquets) as he is greeted upon entering the latter’s apartment. All Fernando’s relatives are dead, so he has come to take possession of his inheritance, a sparsely furnished condo with a sweeping view of the city. But Medellín has changed a lot since he left, and during much of the film he revisits the places that he frequented as a boy. Alexis, who has only known the city as a drug metropolis of more than one million inhabitants, not only provides male companionship but also becomes his guide to the newer local customs. One just custom is to pull out a Baretta and “off” those who are disliked for whatever reason in the expectation that there are so many corpses and killings that police have no interest or time in tracking down the perpetrators. Indeed, Alexis first casually bumps off a boy who played drums annoyingly every night in an adjacent apartment. He next plugs a cab driver who comes after Fernando with a tire iron because he complained that the music in the taxi was too loud. Fernando watches as Alexis kills two pairs of assailants on motorbikes who evidently have a contract on his life, but a third pair finishes him off. Fernando then goes to Alexis’s home uphill from Medellín to provide some cash for his family but soon takes up with Wilmar (played by Juan David Restrepo), another teenage boy, whom he later learns is the one who killed Alexis because Alexis killed his brother, but in due course Wilmar is offed, and Fernando decides to leave the madness of Medellín as the film ends. Directed by Barbet Schroeder, Our Lady of the Assassins is based on a semiautobiographical novel, La Virgen de los Sicarios (1994), by Fernando Vallejo. The movie was filmed in Medellín amid threats of death, kidnapping, and theft; the teenagers were not professional actors, lending authenticity to the argot and story, as Pablo Escobar trained teenagers to be crack shots. The dialog is as filled with quotable epigrams as the streets are with lawlessness and the televised speeches of the politicians contain balderdash. Guntoting is normal, deaths bring little attention, and fireworks are displayed on the news that another shipment of cocaine has successfully entered the United States. For Colombians, the film contained humor and ironies that will be missed by other viewers, but some Colombians objected to the stark reality captured on the screen, evidently preferring not to deal with the issues raised. Revealing everyday life in Medellín, juxtaposing poverty with affluence in a city where the main cathedral is a crackhouse, the Political Film Society has nominated Our Lady of the Assassins as best film exposé of the year. MH