It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Fernando is a writer who returns home to Colombia to die. By the end of Barbet Schroeder's ''Our Lady of the Assassins,'' he is almost the only person he knows who is still alive. His hometown is Medellin, company town of the cocaine industry, seen here as a cursed city of casual death, where machine-gunners on motorcycles roam the streets settling gang feuds.
The writer knew this town 30 years ago, when it must have been a beautiful place. Now killings are common, bystanders look the other way, and in the movie (at least) the police seem absent. Fernando (German Jaramillo) has arrived at a time in his life when he hardly seems to care: Did he come home half-expecting to find death before it found him? A homosexual, he goes to a male brothel and meets Alexis (Anderson Ballesteros), a teenage boy. They spend the night. Not long after, Alexis moves into his barren high-rise apartment. ''There is no furniture,'' the boy observes. ''There is a table, two chairs, a mattress,'' said Fernando. ''What else does one need?'' A television and a boom box, Alexis explains. But soon the boom box goes over the edge of the balcony; Fernando is maddened by the music, as he is also annoyed by the ceaseless drumming of a neighbor, and by the musical tastes of a taxi driver who will not turn down the radio.
Alexis, a gang member who is always armed, helpfully kills both the neighbor and the taxi driver. Fernando is appalled and yet detached; the events in this city do not fully register--he is preoccupied by an inner agenda.
''Our Lady of the Assassins,'' based on an autobiographical novel by the Colombian writer Fernando Vallejo, resonates also with Barbet Schroeder's own life; he was raised in Colombia, has worked mostly in the United States and France, and at 60 is an extraordinary figure. ''No other person in the film world can match his record of diversity,'' notes Stanley Kauffmann in his New Republic review. Schroeder's interests are astonishingly wide. He produces all the films of Eric Rohmer, whose work could not be more different than his own, and he has made movies about Charles Bukowski (''Barfly''), the accused wife-killer Claus von Bulow (''Reversal of Fortune'') and ''Idi Amin Dada,'' a doc about the dictator.