“I’ve come home to die,” Fernando (Germàn Jaramillo), who calls himself “Colombia’s famous grammarian,” intriguingly confides. But before he can offer his body and blood to the dark angels of Medellìn, Colombia’s skies (and the vultures that circle its body dumps), he takes a young, gangland angel of death, Alexis (Anderson Ballesteros), under his wing — and into his arms.
As Alexis undresses at Fernando’s command, his gun falls from his waistband and clunks to the floor. Naked, he modestly holds the weapon between his legs like a deadly fig leaf and crosses the room to Fernando who waits in bed. Alexis could be the Medellìn demimonde’s parody of David, with the biblical hero’s sling updated to a loaded Beretta.
And his Goliath is hydra-headed: Pairs of semiautomatic-armed, teenaged assassins (like him) mounted for Medellìn’s apocalypse, two on a Japanese motorcycle, charge Alexis, engines and guns roaring. He slays them with seemingly practiced skill — only for another pair (uncannily prophesied by a cadaverous character aptly called Deadboy) to appear days or hours later.
Fernando’s Medellìn of romantic ballads is as dead as his family, as dead as the gory Jesus that hangs on the cross in Medellìn’s cathedral (where crackheads loiter and young boys prostitute in their Sunday best) — and as dead as his God. It is now Alexis’ “Medallo” where boys boil their bullets in holy water and pray that they find their mark.
Director Barbet Schroeder has portrayed criminal, violent and more-or-less godless hells in his American films, from his intimate Barfly (1987) to his last (and weakest) blockbuster thriller Desperate Measures (1998). And desperate measures are what most of his heroes and heroines are forced to take. Usually motivated by all-too-human love, they stumble and fail, ironic angels of flesh and blood. Our Lady of the Assassins is his most intimate movie since Barfly, his most unremittingly violent since Kiss of Death (1995), and his most unapologetically human since Before and After (1996).
Where life is worth the cost of the lead it takes to end it, love — wherever it can be found –— is like our lady’s day: a passing truce where even angels with dirty faces may find some heaven in hell.
Showing exclusively at the Detroit Film Theatre (inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward, Detroit), Friday through Sunday. Call 313-833-3237.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at firstname.lastname@example.org.