Political Film Society - Newsletter #112 - September 10, 2001

September 10, 2001


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



OO, based on Shakespeare’s Othello with some passages from the Verdi opera, takes place in Palmetto Grove Academy, a prep school in Charleston, South Carolina. The Othello is African American Odin James (played by Mekhi Phifer), a star basketball player on scholarship who has attracted the romantic attentions of an upper-class Desdemona named Desi Brable (played by Julia Stiles). The wily Iago is Hugo Goulding (played by Josh Hartnett), who wants the couple to break up, using weak-willed Roger Rodriguez (played by Elden Henson), his Rodrigo. Hugo’s father, Duke Goulding (played by Martin Sheen), is the coach of the basketball team, which is in line for the state championship. Michael Casio (played by Andrew Keegan), also on the basketball team, is the boyfriend of Desi’s dormmate Emily (played by Rain Phoenix) but would doubtless be Desi’s boyfriend if Odin had not captured her heart. After Hugo has Roger do his dirty work, resulting in the suspension of Michael from the team, Hugo puts ideas into Odin’s head that Michael is having sex with Desi. Hugo swaps an expensive watch at a pawnshop for a gun, and the inevitable tragic deaths occur. O, directed by Tim Blake Nelson, may serve as a perceptive explanation for contemporary teenage interpersonal intrigue, racism, premarital sex, suicide, and violence, but the lesson is so apropos that the film was pulled from distribution in the wake of the Columbine massacre; Miramax sold the rights to Lions Gate, which held out until an appropriate quiet moment, Labor Day weekend 2001. MH