in our lady of the assassins, a middle-aged gay writer (Germán Jaramillo) returns to Medellin, Colombia, because, he claims, he's tired of living. This may be true, or it may simply be a languorous pose. "Oh, I'm just so world-weary." Whatever.He meets a hot young street kid (Anderson Ballesteros) at a party and falls in love, only to discover that the kid totes a gun, has enemies and almost no anger-management skills.
There may or may not be an autobiographical element in the story spun by novelist/screenwriter Fernando Vallejo, who gives his own name to the protagonist. But director Barbet Schroeder (Reversal Of Fortune, Single White Female) is more interested in exploring a world where homicide is considered a reasonable response when your neighbour plays his drums late at night.
The film's weakness is Jaramillo, who has the gravitas of a doctor on a soap opera, not the airiness of someone given to superficially witty aperçus like "Virtue is for the dead," observations that apparently impress the hell out of barely literate but well-armed Colombian teenagers.
Its strength is Schroeder's ability to turn the limitations of the production -- a small budget and that slightly out-of-phase look one occasionally gets in films shot on digital video -- into the strengths of documentary, which is, after all, how he began his career. Schroeder and his crew, working on the streets of Medellin, capture the unnerving edge of living in a Wild West town where the cowboys ride motorcycles and asking the cabbie to turn off the radio can lead to a confrontation with a machete.
The big surprise, though, is the city of Medellin itself. I'm not sure what I imagined the headquarters of the Colombian drug cartel would look like, but I never pictured a huge modern city with four million inhabitants and a subway system. Who says you can't learn things from the movies?
OUR LADY OF THE ASSASSINS directed by Barbet Schroeder, written by Fernando Vallejo from his novel, produced by Margaret Ménégoz, Schroeder and Jaime Osorio Gmez, with Germán Jaramillo, Anderson Ballesteros and Juan David Restrepo. 98 minutes. A Films de Losange production. A Paramount Classics release. Opens Friday (October 12). For venues and times, see First-Run Movies, page 79. Rating: NNN