Two Kinds Of Predatory Positions Towards Youth Amidst Poverty, Culturelessness And “Extreme Survival” – Economically And Physically Sadistic And Elegantly Indifferent

People start dying for improper grammar on the subway, whistling, and refusing to turn down the radio in a taxi… Every Tuesday morning all these young boys go to the Church – on pilgrimage to Our Lady to ask her to help them kill their victims without their victims’ suffering. There is a strange mixture in the film – of death, religion and crime… While the boys have no problems with sex, they remained noncommittal about their orientation… The film – a major hit in Colombia – was seen at least partially as a comedy.
David Lamble, “Bay Area Reporter”, Febr. 8, 2007

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Fernando is a writer and a man of means who returned to his native country, Colombia after thirty years of absence. By his politeness and good manners Fernando is immediately identified as an upper middle class person. He knows a lot about the world and is full of educated associations and wide scope ideas.

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At a gay party in a luxurious place Fernando meets a fifteen years old Alexis and soon invites him to live in his large apartment where he, “lonely old man, is aimlessly crawling from room to room”. Fernando’s voice is delicate; his facial expressions are politely generalized; there is no any authoritarianism in his character. He is a good hope for a boy living in the slums. But what we see in this shot suggests something else – it rather undermines the disinterestedly friendly facade of a wavering intellectual with a humanistic worldview meeting a young attractive rascal. We feel that we are seeing a kind of recruiting procedure where the boy is assessed and accepted as if it takes place in the army recruiting center.

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This shot suggests is even more – by touching the amulet pendant on Alexis’ neck, Fernando, while in general acts as his generous friend, is appropriating him, as if, taking Alexis at his, Fernando’s, disposal.

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Fernando shares with Alexis his love for Colombia and for Medellin where they were born through the interval of years. He teaches the boy his love for nature – for the hills under which Medellin lies, for skies and birds.

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This poster of “Our Lady of the Assassins” combines – firearm, praying to the Holy Virgin, teenager and his shame. The boy feels guilty because he shoots people, because he is a hit man, because he lives in the slums, because for him there is no other job, and because by committing murders he inflicts suffering on his victims and their families and on his own mother. So, the guiltier he feels, the more passionately he prays to Holy Virgin. We see in the film number of teenage boys who work as petty drug sellers and assassins (sicarios) for drug gangs involved in permanent turf war with one another.

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Alexis looks at Fernando with tremendous expectation – he dreams to discover, with his help, the world beyond the slums, but, of course, he will never allow himself direct appeal – a certain feeling of self-dignity is immanent to human nature even when people adapt to the circumstances incompatible with dignified behavior. But instead of providing some alternative to the life of crime, drugs and indifference omnipresent in Alexis’ life, Fernando just shares with him a multicultural rhetoric and beautiful mental associations but shows an amazing lack of knowledge about the real life and what ‘s possible and impossible in it. Fernando lives inside a pink bubble of his creative and libidinous needs.

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It is Alexis became Fernando’s teacher of what happened in Colombia’s life during Fernando’s sublime sabbatical.

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Fernando had never before seen “alive murders” with his own eyes.

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But Alexis had to learn to shoot in his childhood just in order to survive.

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Fernando is witnessing how Alexis had to kill in order to save Fernando’s life – he would be killed for no reasons, without doing anything wrong, killed for nothing, just because of fury overwhelming the people – just because of the conditions of their life. We in US today are already familiar with the multiplication of meaningless murders like this in public space.

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Fernando feels shame that he is dependent on Alexis much more than Alexis on him. Was he completely sincere when in front of Alexis, he tries to “care” for the dying dog on an empty and dirty road, a kind of meaningless, artificially altruistic and demonstrative behavior? The dog dies in several minutes after Fernando‘s obsessive outburst of care. Did Fernando’s unconscious produced this symptomatic behavior to show to Alex that he, Fernando, is a kind, generous and a compassionate person, not just somebody who lives for himself and doesn’t give a damn about the world outside? Or, may be, Fernando felt guilty for not doing for Alexis what he should be doing – taking him out of slums and the streets and everyday death, out of Medellin and provide for him educational chance to live another life? What Alexis, who knows death by nickname, can learn from Fernando’s act of mercy toward the dying animal? Alexis was killed in a several days later by the members of the rivaling gang.

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Of course, Fernando was grieving and suffering. He found Alexis’ mother and gave her some money. But reasonably quickly he found another boy, as young as Alexis. But what a terrible discovery Fernando went through – he learned by chance that his new playmate is the one who assassinated Alexis. How can the heart of any human being go through something like this?

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Moved by the desire to avenge for Alexis’ death, Fernando points the gun at Wilmar, who like Alexis, got his pedagogical lessons from life in the slums and worked for the rivaling gang. Of course, Fernando will not kill his handsome young companion – he is a cultural man, an intelligent and a tolerant person. The idea of revenge is alien to him. He is a humanist. He went through even more suffering trying to overcome his despair in having to choose between his memory of Alexis and his relationship with Wilmar. He lost Wilmar anyway when he was attacked and killed by the members of still another gang. Fernando visited his body in the morgue and saw the monstrous scar bifurcating like the vulture’s wings from his belly up to his shoulders – his belly and chest were, obviously, cut open, in order to take out Wilmar’s internal organs for sale (his body was very young).

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Barbet Schroeder is working with actors before shooting of the scene.

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Barbet Schroeder

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Nobody including Schroeder could make a film about segments of American youth whose life can be comparable with the Colombian young people Schroeder depicts in “Our Lady of the Assassins” – it would have been ideologically and financially impossible. But throughout the film about how Colombians of the elder generation treat their youth we can see intergenerational relations as a universal socio-political problem. The director represents two types of treatment of the young by the adults – one by the leaders of the gangs hiring teenagers as hit men and those who consider poverty as an inevitable condition of life for majority of the people. But the second type is represented by the main character, Fernando who is not endangering young people’s lives and even helps some of them materially, but he is almost autistic towards the fact that his help and attention towards them not only cannot change the tragedy of their lives, but almost cynically adds to the rubbish dump of their life a drop of perfume that only emphasizes the absence of any hope for the future generations of underprivileged kids. If adults of the first group behave like slave owners, like those who think that the life of majority should consist of hard work and obedience and that the best young people can do is to sacrifice their life protecting the interests of their masters, the second group doesn’t insist on serious political improvements and is prone to compromise with general pauperization and illiteracy.

People of conservative sensibility (POCSs) are “very sensitive” to the question of “not proper” sexual orientation, desires and relationships. Their sensitivity is not purely ideological. Because they are as prone to have “wrong inclinations” as people with less conservative orientation, they are also more divided about it within themselves. These people like to moralize, judge, condemn instead of trying to study and understand human behavior. But they certainly have no problem with putting young in risky and dangerous situations. They will watch parts of Schroeder’s film including Fernando’s sexual inclinations with horror and indignation, but will enjoy other parts where young people kill one another following order of the elder males. While watching the film they will not even notice that Fernando could have saved Alexis from crime, illiteracy and, finally, death – just by taking him out of Medellin and investing in his education but there is no evidence that he could have seriously consider doing something like this.

Fernando is a typical person of liberal sensibility (POLS). He is elegant and humanistically educated consumer of young human bodies and youthful passions. Of course, POCSs are also consumers of the young bodies, but not necessarily in a sexual sense. They consume and digest the bodies of the young through military service – by sending them to fight on the battlefields for the sake of the ideals of national glory which POCSs equate with their dreams of having more power and money. In the terms of the film, POCSs are very close to the Colombian drug cartels functionaries who use the young boys to fight for them wars of profit and domination.

But is the refined and gentler Fernando much better than Medellin’s gang leaders worshiping two idols – profit and social power? Of course, Fernando is not belligerent or despotic, but his sexual desires help his indifference towards life beyond sex. In other words, in spite of all the difference between the crude conservative abusers of the young and liberal delicate one, their relations with the youth, according to the film, is more similar than it looks. POCSs try to use the young for their profits and advantages, and POLSs – for their private pleasures, for the humanism of “sharing a common humanity”. POCSs like to be bosses, they like to lead, to be in charge – they basically are afraid of other people and they rush to establish with them hierarchical relations (to make it immediately clear who is the decision-maker here and who is the obedient follower of the superior will). POLSs, on the other hand, are psychologically ready for equality, for brotherhood, but their “private practice” of equality and brotherhood will always be contaminated by the factual inequality. In this sense POLSs are just milder/softer/gentler version of POCSs, they’re as if conservatives with a humane face.

The destiny of the Colombian youth in “Our Lady of the Assassins” is that of the universal youth in 21st century. We have to take this film as a serious warning about the future of humanity.

Who is then in the film the real la Virgen de los Sicarious? It is, to our dismay, Fernando, who has isolated himself from socio-political realities and has made his personal particularity the gravitational center of his life by existentially betraying those who enter his existence.

In a very meaningful scene of a dying stray dog, noticed by Fernando and Alexis, the reason Alexis couldn’t shoot the dog is that in his system of coordinate to kill a creature doomed to die means to kill the helpless, while he usually kills for self- or Fernando’s defense, in a situation of complete alienation. It is Fernando who was able to kill the dog (to kill somebody for the first time in his life) because in his system of coordinate it was a mercy killing – to prevent the dog from meaningless suffering. Fernando’s act of killing the dog corresponds in its meaning to Alexis’ pray to the Virgin asking for making his victims die without too much suffering.

When at the end of the film Fernando sees Wilmar’s corpse with a terrifying thick scar through his whole body and we understand that his inner organs have been removed to be sold – we get Schroeder’s concept: predatory sucking of the vitality from the young bodies and souls is, according to the director, the essence of our time when planned pauperization of the population is just a strategy of making the young completely dependent on their masters including those cultivated and educated people like Fernando.

Posted on Jan 10 2015 –   “Our Lady of the Assassins” (2000) by Barbet Schroeder  by Acting-Out Politics