LA SIERRA (Scott Dalton, Margarita Martinez, 2005)

The following is one of the entries from my two-part list of the 100 greatest films from Africa, Latin America & the Caribbean, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis

“We’re in the hands of kids with guns.”
     Scott Dalton and Margarita Martinez’s documentary about the armed struggle between Colombian Leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitaries for control of Medellin’s hillside barrio of La Sierra contemplates the contorted relations among youth, poverty, desperation, violence. Shortly after opening pages of script (“In the past decade, over 35,000 people have been killed in Colombia’s bloody civil conflict”), we see a shot-dead youth on the ground, his bloody corpse a magnet for flies. His girlfriend is beside herself. This will be a film in which other teenaged girls are stricken with identical grief over the loss of their children’s young fathers.
     One member of the paramilitary group Bloque Metro notes that he worries not about harm coming to him but to his family. We think: Your being killed—that will harm your family.
     Dalton and Martinez focus on three persons: Edison Flores, the 22-year-old commander of Bloque Metro, who has six offspring with six different girls; Cielo, the 17-year-old girlfriend of an incarcerated Bloque Metro member; 19-year-old Jesús, who is under Edison’s command and who has lost a hand to his own grenade: a natural metaphor that plays out through the film, encapsulating the self-destructive nature of gangland violence. “I’m one of the good guys,” Jesús professes; “I’m only bad to bad people.” Offscreen, Martinez asks him, “Do you think you will die young?” Jesús: “Of course.”
     By joining forces with another paramilitary group, Bloque Metro is finally able to defeat the local guerrillas, at which point war erupts afresh as the other group seeks total control of La Sierra. Government forces shoot dead Edison; we watch a small neighborhood boy ignite a legend about the fallen commander.
     Reality is a rock upon which the human heart breaks of its own accord.

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