Upon first watching Our Lady of the Assassins it easily provoked an unequivocal thought in my mind, “this is the worst film I have ever seen.” While this assertion has not been abandoned, the film makes much more sense when placed alongside the readings. However this extra light shed by the readings in many ways further damns the film if it is approached with historical purpose. While approaching any film with such a narrow vision of what should be gained is presumptuous on the viewers part, the film did open this door by trying to be something more than the story of one man. The result was a plot which could not decide whether or not it wanted to simply be the story of a man, or if it wanted to be the story of Medillin.
The primary problem with this film as it relates to this class ultimately lies with the fact that for many, there can be little to no empathy for the situation or the characters. First off, the 800 pound guerilla should be addressed. It is much better to be honest and provoke a true dialogue than skirting around an issue in order to be politically correct. The homosexuality made me uncomfortable and judging by the number of people looking away from the screen all at the same time, I know I was not the only one. However that alone could not have been the only problem because regardless of whatever personal convictions I might have I have never found homosexuality so disturbing. It then hit me as I argued with myself about how it was childish to let a homosexual relationship derail an academic approach to the film. It was not the homosexuality in and of itself, but rather that nature of the relationship and the two men in that relationship which ruined any chance for empathizing with Alexis or Fernando. It was borderline pedophilia with an old man who took advantage of the fact that he could basically purchase “love” of young boys to entertain him and listen to his rather insane rants. The only reason I take time to address this issue is that it undoubtedly detracts from the value of this film for many students, and I am only comfortable saying so after to talking to about a dozen classmates on top of the awkward silence after the film.
As for the film itself, it failed in its attempt to frame its story, which was very personal while completely reliant on the extreme socio-economic situation in Medillin. Fernando kept talking of the Medillin of old, as if everything was ok before Pablo and the cartels took power. But Hylton’s essay Evil Hour in Columbia presents a picture of Columbia which was never the peaceful and sleepy country Fernando recollects. These recollections, along with only passing comments trying to explain the violence and motivations of the gangs hurt the film. The violence was utterly senseless, yet while it should have been shocking, the film never really presented any understanding for it. The willingness of so man people to use violence as casually as holding a conversation is an incredibly shocking reality, but it never seems so in the film. It did not help that this film was shown after The City of God, which was masterful in how it allowed viewers to understand the motivations of even the most heinous acts of violence.
With all of this being presented it was hard not to see Our Lady of the Assassins as fantastical; a story of characters who are hard to care for in a world that has no hint of reality. But this understanding is completely false when placed against the readings. Hylton’s essay is incredibly informative as it allows for this incomprehensible environment to become a historical reality. The conflicts between the conservatives, liberals, populist, and all their sub factions is deeply ingrained in the Columbian story and the sheer scale of these incredibly fluid conflicts allows for students to understand how violence had become such a normal part of life. The massive amount of acronyms which would put the bureaucracy of the United States to shame were constantly engaged in conflict, whether it be martial, economic, political, or cultural (or a combination of some or all). However throughout the conflicts that both Vargas and Hylton explore there was one constant feature that was missing from the film. Whether it was Gomez or Escobar or the dozens of other leaders, all the violence had some semblance of leadership and goals, something that was utterly non-existent in the post-Escobar Medillin. The figures and ideals which had propelled the violence were gone in Alexis’s world, yet the violence had remained as a deeply ingrained part of life.
The final issue I wished to tackle was how the Church was portrayed in the film. While it was not unusual to see the deep Catholic influences shared by the killers, it was strange to see how the reverence was universal among a population which had been involved in a war which very much revolved around factions on the left which had traditionally seen the Church as an enemy. Hylton’s essay shed much needed light on the subject when it was explained how for much of the various conflicts the Church had fulfilled its traditional role of supporting conservative forces; however during the small period of reconciliation under Gomez the Church had tried to be a institution which worked for cooperation. Also the situation in Medillin during the period in which the film took place was not in the wake of political violence and contention, but in the aftermath of the very economic conflict experienced during the cartels rule.
Overall Our Lady of the Assassins fails to ever allow for an audience ignorant of Columbia’s history to understand or care about the city in the film because it felt so unreal. In many ways this would be forgiveable due to the fact that the students in the United States were not the target audience. However, there were a few times where the film appeared to be attempting to give a context to the audience, and compared to films like City of God the movie failed in its attempt. Additionally, the characters who are meant to take us through this journey are tiring. Even the educated and reflective Fernando is so tiring in his self-righteousness as well as his unwillingness to do anything about the situation (including the much alluded to and entirely plausible escape) that to care about him or his murderous boy toys (which are almost to the point of being inhuman, which is likely more of an issue of their portrayal in the film rather than who they were in reality) is for this writer, an unachievable goal.