La Sierra

Scott Dalton & Margarita Martinez

9/10 (amateurish)

“La Sierra” is a grueling look into the drug-fueled conflict in the slums of Colombia. It is difficult to watch with its graphic images of violence, death and misery, but it is an important work for anyone seeking to understand the war that has plagued Colombia for the last half-century.

Upon viewing, you quickly see how complex the situation is. There are not only different “sides” of the conflict but there are warring factions within each side. “Battles” between both factions and sides take the form of random gunfights and bomb exlosions in the hillside slums of Colombia’s 2nd city, Medellin. When factions take control of a sector, they control the entire drug-flow and become the de facto government in a place where police and military rarely enter.

Young boys see these powerful men with guns and money and want to be like them. Their fathers are usually either participants themselves or powerless to stop them. Young girls are attracted to the gangsters and often form a sort of harem around them (One of the principal participants in the doc, the faction chief Edison, brags about his several girlfriends that are either pregnant or have recently given birth). It is a hopeless culture of drugs, violence, and poverty.

I admittedly come from a liberal perspective, but I find it difficult to believe how somebody — even the staunchest conservative — could watch this and still come away blaming the individuals depicted here for their responses to this culture of ignorance and poverty. The situation is almost literally hopeless. There is barely any electric or water infrastructure, let alone law or education. Watching it, you realize how complex the situation is, and how dismal.

Even if you’re inclined to look for solutions it is almost impossible to know where to begin. Do you send troops in which would in effect start a class war? Do you try to assassinate gang leaders knowing that the power vacuum could lead to even more violence in their wake? Do you provide economic incentives for the groups to disarm, even though we know almost a decade after the disarmament that it has failed miserably and many of the former paramilitaries have now rearmed? It seems quite clearly to me a problem of education, except I have to recognize that these people cannot earn money while going to school, and they do need to eat.

All of these questions that the movie suggests are the reason it is so important. People need to be thinking about these issues. Perhaps people will be more inclined to do so after witnessing such a horrifying example of the depths to which a society can plunge. Even for those who care little about Colombia or the third world, it is important to know that these things happen in our world, that this stuff is out there.

Bottom line: The movie is a must-see. It will probably haunt you afterward.

19 May 2011


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