Week 12- Our Lady of the Assassins

La Virgen de los Sicaros was released in 2000 and was directed by Barbet Schroeder. In English it translates as Our Lady of the Assassins. It tells the story of Fernando who has returned home to the violence ridden city of Medellin. When he arrives he takes on a young boy named Alexis as his lover, who also happens to be an assassin. After Alexis takes a number of lives for petty things, he himself is killed in retaliation. Fernando then tries to find Alexis’s killer to take revenge, but instead falls in love with Wilmar, who actually turns out to be the boy that killed Alexis. By the end of the film Wilmar has also been killed and Fernando is left alone.
Our Lady of the Assassins paints a picture of Medellin that makes it seem like a city ruled by violence. Upon watching the film one might assume that this was done simply for dramatic effect. This is not the case. Portraying Medellin as such a violent town is completely accurate. From 1946 to 1957 Colombia was in the grips of La Violencia which “was a mix of ‘official terror, partisan sectarianism, and scorched earth policy’ that resulted from the crisis of the coffee republic. (Hylton, 39) It was marked by “concentrated terror” (Hylton, 39) Over ten years were spent in the grips of this large violent uprising. La Violencia would eventually devolve into counter-insurgencies and finally by the time Fernando returned to Medellin daily violence would be just an ordinary occurrence, be it from the state level or from the gangs that roamed the towns.

Some might also question the extent to which gangs pervaded the social landscape of Colombia, but the movie also got the representation of gangs in Colombia spot on too. As described Vargas, there are “four key historical conditions that help explain the growth and consolidation of…mafia power.” (Vargas, 107) These factors are, a situation in which the nation-state has not made its presence sufficiently known, the “existence of a personalized mediation with centralized political powers,” dependency “that is mediated through the use of economic resources,” and “private violence is used as a mechanism of social control.” (Vargas 107) All of these factors could be found in Medellin when Fernando returned. The government of Colombia was in no position to fight against the drug trade found in Medellin, despite US help. The gangs and assassins therefore provided their own government that would give rise to the gang violence found when one of the biggest purveyors of drugs was knocked out. The way the gangs were portrayed was spot on with what was happening in Medellin at the time.

Finally, if one were to think from the movie that the Colombian government simply did not have the will nor resources to go after these gangs, then they would be correct. In 1997 a report was made by the CIA that “the Colombian government had done little to reign in paramilitary groups.” (Central Intelligence Agency, Intelligence Report, “Colombia: Paramilitaries Gaining Strength,” June 13, 1997, Secret, 21 pp.) If the government of Colombia was not willing to crack down on the groups that were causing massacres across the country, it is little wonder that people like Alexis and the gangs he ran with would be left to their own devices.

While the movie portrays callous killing and indiscriminate violence, the viewer could begin to believe that it is only there for dramatics. But this is not the case. Our Lady of the Assassins successfully shows just how ridiculous the violence was in Medellin when it came to the drug trade and the normalization of violence that could be found with the nation of Colombia.