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This review is from: Our Lady of the Assassins (DVD)
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.