If you’re tired of life and looking for a place to die, Medellin, Colombia might be just the place for you. In this most infamous of South American cities, which vacillates wildly between anarchy and drug cartel control, any normal scene of metropolitan tranquillity can quickly and without warning turn into a brief but deadly spasm of urban violence. Resist a carjacking and get shot dead. Play the drums too loud and get shot dead. Insult somebody for whistling and get shot dead. Indeed, it seems the only portion of the government that even functions is the coroner’s office.
Chronically cynical writer Fernando Vallejo (German Jaramillo) is simply tired of living. Thus, it makes perfect sense for him to return to Medellin, the city of his birth. Yet, the sheer amount of senseless violence disturbs even him. He gets a front row seat to Medellin’s cycle of gang warfare when he meets Alexis (Anderson Ballesteros), just one of the many anonymous young faces caught up in cartel violence. Soon, the worldly writer and his young companion are an item, spending days walking the dangerous streets of the city.
There are the predictable generation gaps between the older, sophisticated Fernando and the street-smart Alexis. The former prefers Classical music, for example; the latter, metal and rap played as loudly as possible. Fernando craves peace and quiet. Alexis, metal and rap played as loudly as possible.
Some of the other contrasts aren’t nearly so mundane, however. Fernando abhors violence. For Alexis, however, the first, simplest and often best solution to even the most minor irritant is shoot to kill. Fernando deplores these senseless killings even as they perversely bring him back to life. Violence breeds violence, however. And with roving bands of hit men on motorcycles gunning for Alexis to avenge an earlier killing, it appears certain that the man who returned to Medellin to die will inevitably lose the one person in his life who gives him any will to live.
“Our Lady of the Assassins” hits the ground running. Within the first five minutes of this semi-autobiographical adaptation of Vallejo’s novel, Fernando meets Alexis and we learn that he wants to die. It’s also a fascinating look at a city about which, while often unfavorably mentioned in American news reports, most of us have no clue. It’s almost more of a shock to see electricity and subways than it is to witness the daily acts of senseless murder.
Yet, like its principles, who spend most of the movie simply strolling around Medellin, director Barbet Schroeder’s grim film never really goes anywhere either. We know Fernando wants to die, but we have no idea why. Thus, it’s difficult to empathize with this pissed off, crusty whiner.
In addition, it’s frustrating to watch a film in which Fernando never appears to learn from his experiences with the vicious circle of death surrounding Alexis and his associates. To paraphrase Confucius, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” That’s exactly the path down which Fernando appears to be headed.
Repetition is rarely interesting and never exciting. That pattern holds true here.