A world-weary middle-aged writer steps into a posh all-male bordello and meets an amiable young fellow wearing a windbreaker and a baseball cap. They have sex, and the writer takes him home with him afterward, but before that we learn that the young man carries a gun everywhere he goes.
The kid, an easygoing type in most respects, dresses casually and gets his kicks from sex and rock ‘n’ roll. The older man, a despairing Catholic who says he’s come back to his native city to die, is tender toward the youth, and the kid in turn is gently amused by the elder’s bitter proclamations about the state of their world.
But the scene isn’t San Francisco or New York. It’s Medellín, in Colombia, and the kid’s firearm is basic equipment for life on the sidewalks of a city in which lethal assaults and drive-by shootings are so much a part of day-to-day experience that fresh corpses in the street are routinely ignored. And so it’s not exactly a surprise when Alexis, the kid, guns down an abusive cab driver.
Fernando the writer, however, is surprised, and this basically nonviolent man gives us a surprise of sorts when he tries to protect the kid instead of abandoning him after the first killing and again with those that follow. The epidemic of violence among young Colombian males is the crucial dramatic premise here, but Our Lady of Assassins is no mere exercise in social protest.
Indeed, while Fernando voices a full array of astute protests, he sees himself as deeply implicated in the fallen world to which he has returned, and his awareness that he is traveling through a contemporary version of Hell gives unexpected depths to this simply told story.
Shooting in digital video on the streets of Medellín, European filmmaker Barbet Schroeder has come up with a brilliant no-frills version of Fernando Vallejo’s novel. German Jaramillo (as Fernando) and Anderson Ballestreros (as Alexis) bring engagingly offhanded humanity to their respective roles, but the devastating clarity and simplicity of Schroeder’s rendering of their story is what makes it all into extraordinarily compelling drama. Our Lady of Assassins is one of the exceptional films of 2001 that never made it to local theaters. Now it’s available locally on DVD and VHS.