40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on September 14, 2001
Barbet Schroeder has directed some fine films: "Reversal of Fortune" is one and some not so good films: "Single White Female." All his films have shown Schoeder to be interesting at least and profound and vibrant at best. In his "Out Lady of the Assassins," Schroeder returns to the city of his youth, Medellin, Colombia after a very long absence. Schroeder shares this homecoming with the lead in this film, Fernando played by German Jaramillo who is shocked and revolted yet attracted to the city of his birth. You get the feeling that Fernando, weary with life and too many bad love affairs, has come home to die. We are all taught as children to revere life but Fernando has stepped back into a world where life is not held at a premium and people are gunned down in the streets by roving gangs of young men and boys whose philosophy is "kill first...or be killed." The tone of this movie reminded me very much of Francis Ford Coppola's in "Apocalypse Now" in which we view a world out of kilter; a world gone crazy. Fernando, a gay writer in his 50's meets a young man at a party, Alexis (Anderson Ballesteros) who looks to be 15 or 16 and they are drawn to each other and eventually fall in love. The usual route in this type of affair would have one using the other in one way or another. But Schoeder is too shrewd for that and Fernando and Alexis fall in love without hang-ups or regret. This film is also one of contradictions: Fernando, a unrepentant critic of the Catholic church yearns to see the beautiful gothic cathedrals of his youth. And longing to see the house and neighborhood in which he grew up he finds that his parents and relatives have been killed or died and that his neigborhood has been flattened by bombs and gunfire. "Our Lady of the Assassins" was shot in the same guerrilla-style look as was "Amores Perros," which gives the film a grainy newsreel look that enhances the world-gone-crazy tone of the movie. What makes this film such a sobering and astringent experience is the realization that Schoeder has exaggerated very little here and that the world of Medillin, Colombia is very much as he portrays it. A Major achivement.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on January 27, 2002
This is, by far, Barbet Shroeder's best effort. Perhaps his familiarity with the language, the country and its people themselves are contributing factors although Shroeder (Playboy August 2001) tells of the many problems and dangers he encountered while filming in Medellin.
I have not yet read Fernando Vallejo's novel, on which the film is based, nor have I visited Columbia so I can deal with Shroeder's work at face value only. Still I was able to appreciate his accomplishment at a number of levels. As an introduction to the streets and los barrios of Medellin I was fascinated. As a documentary of the lives and sufferings of the resident populace I was moved. As cinema I was greatly impressed with the performance of German Jaramillo who plays Fernando, a man so jaded with life that he has surpassed the fear of death yet has difficulty making his exit for any number of reasons... One last love, a visit to a long ago cantina or church, the sound of a once familiar melody.
His youthful lover Alexis (Anderson Ballestros) by way of contrast kills rather than engaging in senseless argumentation, or to preclude personal affront but most of all to avoid being killed. The pace of Alexis' life can only be slowed by sexuality, sleep or death. The music which soothes him is loud and frenetic. His sometime outward languidity cannot hide a turbulence bred of violence and danger yet he is unable to watch as Fernando mercifully kills a suffering animal.
The killing portrayed here is not for those impressed with the Hollywood blood-bath type featuring good guys vs bad guys where the good guys somehow always prevail by way of superior cunning or fire-power. Here there is no justification. Only futile vengeance and self preservation. Nobody is right. No one wins.
Shroeder keeps the film short and uses a bare skeleton of plot to extend the running time to ninety-eight minutes. It is only slightly more than enough and Shroeder can be forgiven for conforming to acceptable feature time length considering what he has been able to achieve.
The dialogue is superb, cutting away the veneer of myth and civilization, as humanity is reduced to an insane parody of breeding, feeding, dying and removal of bodies. In one memorable scene Fernando rails sardonic at the determination of residents to dump corpses down a mountain side in spite of a sign clearly prohibiting the practice. Vultures circle above awaiting the opportunity to feast on the distorted carrion.
The soundtrack ranges from pasodobles to Maria Callas and is beautifully integrated into the moods of Fernando and his youthful lovers.
Anyone interested in how much can be communicated through the art of cinema should see this film and see it more than once -- in a cinema.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Barbet Schroeder has given us a rare insight into what the future may hold should we continue on the course of senseless brutality we witness in the Media daily now. OUR LADY OF THE ASSASSINS is a terrifyingly realistic account of the world gone mad, of the use of the gun as the immediate stimulus response solution for opposing opinions/views/misunderstandings. The writer who is the main character seems to be time-warping into the future of what might eventually consume us. The terror is in the reportage manner in which this film is delivered. Beautiful young boys exist by making their bodies available to adults who have money or power or who afford food and protection. This is not a film about male hustlers: the relationships between our main character and his young men are full of warmth and tenderness, if edged by the acerbic razor of street rules of survival by the gun. The visual and poetic references to the cathedrals of this Colombian town under moral siege are even more poignant in these days of the Catholic church's dealing with its own demons. This beautifully made film is disturbing, but somehow it is not depressing because the need and fulfilment of love between two characters no matter how disparate rings loudly throughout. A major movie.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on April 7, 2003
This is a love story between a lanky youth and 50-something writer whose hometown has gone to seed. Medellin for all practical purposes is a war zone, packed with moped assassins, battling gangs, graffiti, and decadence. Their bond proceeds from a hustler-john relationship to a love affair. Fernando provides the apartment and mullah; Alexis, all the charms of youth. Music is used to illustrate the generation gap: Fernando favors the mellifluous arias of Maria Callas, and Alexis prefers the kind of grinding punk that sounds like someone dropped screws into a blender & hit "puree."
The camera doesn't shy away from their bedroom. The two sleep together, and in one potently sensual scene, Alexis takes a swig of tequilla and drools it into the man's mouth. Strolling through the city, Fernando reminisces about how it once was: his old house, the church, the bodegas, the cantinas. He walks down memory lane in the presence of a younger man as James Whale did in "Gods and Monsters" (1998) with Clayton Boone.
But the anarchy of Medellin (Colombia) begins to target Alexis. In this world, the grudges multiply exponentially as someone keeps avenging the death of a friend, relative, or fellow gang member. Corpses pile on a hill; the violence of the gangs & drug cartels is eating the city alive.
Our Lady conflates the violence and sexuality of Alexis' life into one gorgeous image: fireworks popping overhead, which could be a perfect backdrop for a romantic night at Fernando's, if Alexis didn't know it's also a celebration that a shipment of cocaine got through to America. Throughout the film, the boy is stalked by his fate.
Before death intrudes and Fernando cradles the cold limp Alexis like a Pieta, nostalgic memories, witty banter, black humor, & unabashed sexuality made their bond very compelling to watch.
Too bad we feel more threatened by sex than by aggression. Alexis at heart is a lover not a fighter. The early moment in which he undresses before Fernando in the "Butterfly Room," scrawny and vulnerable but swarthy and beautiful, we know this. But undressing makes his gun fall with a hard clack to the floor. He is the boy of doom. They must make the most of their time.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2003
For some reason this film will not let me go. I come back to it again and again. It is starting to become my favorite film, period.
So much is said in these other reviews that I do not need to add more, so let this review simply state that this film shall long stand out as Barbet's best (even better than Barfly and Reversal of Fortune, and certainly superior to Single White Female,) and one of the best examples of guerrilla film making. My only complaint with the DVD is that there are no special features. But perhaps that is a shallow complaint. The film is perfect and needs no accompaniment. Standing alone, it shines as pure magic and everything that cinema should be.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2001
We found the movie to be well done with good direction and photography.For over 50 years we have been very familiar with the city where it was filmed.
The movie and book moved us to great sadness and many memories
of what was, what is, and what could have been for this latin city and the country of Colombia.
Certainly worth seeing if you like foreign movies.
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on February 14, 2004
This is an extremely powerful movie, but it's not really a 'gay' love story despite the assertions of the other reviewers, who misunderstand completely the real nature of the relationship between Fernando, the central character, and his beautiful teen-aged lover, Alexis.
No, this is a powerful movie about despair. After all, if you deny any salvation, you must repeat the hopelessness of everything, make hopelessness inevitable.
The central character, Fernando relentlessly embodies a spirit of negativity towards absolutely everything - even his young male lovers are assassins. The youth and innocence of Alexis is merely the foil against which Fernando's obsessive depression plays itself out.
Step by step Fernando exposes his young lover Alexis to the death to which that boy is destined. It is a strange "being hatefully in love," Alexis'lines has it. Fernando becomes this ill-starred boys' codependent as, time and again, he does nothing to avert the youngster's fate, and everything to practically provoke the inevitable. Fernando, in his own rejection of hope, is as much a death-bringer as his young assassins, whatever his protestations.
Considering the director's last name (Schroder) it's no surprise that we find a literary allusion from the director's own ethnic background. In Goethe's Faust the Satanic emissary, Mephistopheles, is memorialized as " "Der Geist der ewig verneint," the Spirit which forever denies, and that's certainly Fernando.
The proof of my guess at a literary background for the film is Fernando's reminiscence that in childhood he had a family parrot named Fausto. There it is, Goethe's great work, and the key to Fernando's unwittingly Mephistophelian character.
Fernando's despair is less than his own "negation" of all trust, all hope. He's in despair of himself, and, in that, I suppose, serves as a metaphor for the nation of Columbia, with it's corruption and violence.
Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian novelist, recently pointed out that in the Latin American character there is a profound distrust of all social institutions, that spirit of negation which undermines their social progress, even as people struggle to make their government work. On one hand there's passionate self-sacrifice, as even like young Alexis who throws himself in front of Fernando to save him from the gang's bullets. On the other, a profound mistrust of everything that might work, as embodied in the character of Fernando. No accident, that the film is replete with themes of faith and utter doubt, salvation and slaughter in one character.
Fernando's despair is obvious, but what's truer and beneath the surface is his fatal negation of anything that might relieve his despair. Inevitably he loses one boy whom he makes no effort to save, and, when he's offered a second chance, tries to save another when it's too late. So much of Latin America has something of this at work in it - those themes of love and death get handled with quite some consistency in those somber films.
The predecessor of this film, by the way, is "Rodrigo D", a cinema verite treatment of the youngsters' gang battles in Colombia in the eighties. By the time the film was ready for release, seven of its twenty "street boy" actors were dead through that senseless, inevitable violence.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 2003
"Our Lady" deserves the accolades for its direction and story.
An offbeat, violent story with excellent camera work and characters. Fernando's irreverant humor and wit in the story is great. His two young lovers were well cast and handsome young men. I loved it.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2002
OK, I thought the film was great. The bond between Alexis and Fernando - improbable to most "normal" people because of the huge age difference - makes perfect sense: Fernado is the last surviving member of his family, and Alexis' surrogate family - his gang - has been completely wiped out by rivals. They are both alone. I liked the black humour of this film. I even laughed when some people were shot. But I think I was supposed to. After all, this film depicts an absurd, "magical" reality. My BIG complaint is the DVD. I speak Spanish. The "standard" variety. This film had a lot of Colombian slang (different from that of Spain or Mexico, where I live) and I think it would've been great to have had subtitles IN SPANISH as well. That would be a great help to people studying the language too. I thought the whole point of DVDs (apart from the superior picture quality) was the possibility of adding "bells and whistles". Interviews with the writer (Fernando Vallejo), director and actors would've been great. My advice to fellow Amazon purchasers is avoid the DVD and get VHS. It's cheaper! :-) Better yet, see it in the cinema.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2006
I am not sure how much of this film is autobiographical and how much is fiction. I do know that Fernando Vallejo, the novelist who wrote the novel "Our Lady of the Assassins" as well as this film's screenplay, is a reknowned Colombian author who, like the Fernando in this film, spent much of his life in voluntary exhile. (In the real Fernando's case, the exhile was in Mexico and Italy). In another series of novels Vallejo has written extensively about the difficulties of growing up gay in Colombia, so there is a possibility that in the novel and film versions of "Our Lady of the Assassins" we are getting glympses of his own life experience coming back to Medellin as a middle-aged man.
Both the film and the novel present a touching but in many ways distasteful romance between an affluent older man and an underaged hustler/hired killer from the Medellin underclass. Neither the film nor the novel pass judgment on the relationship, but both make the viewer/reader squirm. There is the obvious question of poor youth being exploited by an older man. Additionally, the older man is an unapologetic snob, a hedonistic social-darwinist whose contempt for the indigent around him reflects very poorly on the Colombian bourgeoisie. The younger man, beneath the angel face, is nihilistic and an apparently uncritical respository of crass international pop culture. The duo's comments about their lives and their meanderings through Medellin depict a very sick society--a portrait that is the thrust of Vallejo's novel.
Other commentors on this webpage suggest that they do not find the wanton violence in this film credible. Unfortunately, the press reports on life in Bogota and Medellin (particularly the latter, as one of the capitals of the cocaine cartels) bear out Vallejo's portrait. So, too, do the stories of many affluent Colombians who have emigrated to Miami in order to escape violence. And sadly, the literature and films about slum children from other large Latin American cities--Pixote (Sao Paulo), Los Olvidados (Mexico City), Amores Perros (Mexico City)--touch on similar themes [See the recent Colombian novel "Satan", by Moreno, which is a portrait of Bogota gone to hell]. This is an unpleasant, painful portrait--and we are seeing the portrait through the eyes of people who are alternatively sympathetic and horrible. But the portrait is probably realistic, as are our guides.
The deliberate use of unsophisticated cameras in this film add to the feeling of cinema verite and enhance the film's impact. All in all, this is an impressive undertaking, and the film goes beyond the novel in engendering dispair over the well-being of Colombia.