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San Sebastián International Film Festival - New Directors: Killing Jesus

Matar a Jesús (Laura Mora, 2017)

Colombian director Laura Mora has presented her first feature film Matar a Jesús (Killing Jesus) as part of the Festival’s New Directors section, dedicated to first and second works where it received the Special Mention. In the film, Paula, a photography student, witnesses the killing of her dad, a university teacher. Stricken with sorrow and aware her dad’s case will never find a resolution through the slow administrative system, congested with similar cases, she decides to take revenge and kill the hitman after spotting him in a club. The action is set in Medellín, scenario where Pablo Escobar’s cartel operated in the 70s and 80s and where a well-established structure of hitmen emerged after Escobar’s death in 1993. The director, Laura Mora, was born in this city in 1981 and, as the protagonist, had her father murdered. She too experienced a feeling of revenge that never came into being, but that was instead metamorphosed in the making of this film.

The socio-political reality of the Latin American regions is still very influential as a starting point for many of the films produced in these countries. In the case of Colombia, topics on the conflict, drug trafficking and poverty have abounded in the films coming from this region. The weight of these narratives has contributed to shaping one-dimensional imaginaries about the nation, which, through film festivals, have been circulated, consolidated and expected. Even if the title of Mora’s debut suggests yet another film focusing on violence in Colombia, this is a work that fits better within a new corpus of films in the Colombian national cinema that seek to present different approaches to this subject matter. The director acknowledges the influence of Victor Gaviria’s social realism style- director who became internationally celebrated with the films Rodrigo D: No Futuro (1990) and The Rose Seller (1998) also set in Medellín- and presents a stripped-back story whose visual style captures the contradictory forces in the city. Here, Medellín opens up as a chaotic, roaring city where the vibrant streets are filled with music and rampage, everything happening very quickly. To achieve this, the director herself employed hand-held camera shooting to reinforce the idea of instability and vertigo. There is no gratuitous violence in the film but a sense of this being normalised in society is conveyed. One example is the presence of children in some scenes, as the director wanted to reflect how they grow up with so much violence but also love around them.

Non-professional actors Natasha Jaramillo and Giovanni Rodriguez in Killing Jesus

More interestingly, perhaps, is how the director manages to portray the relationship that develops between Paula and Jesús (the hitman). Not only do they reveal the stark contrast between social classes in Colombia but also symbolise how the state has failed them both. As Paula will not be able to find justice for her father through legal methods, Jesús is not to be held responsible either, as he survives by the only means he can. As in Gaviria’s films, the characters here find themselves lacking the support from the state they should have; a state whose corruption level is also reflected, as can be seen in the friendly relationship between the policemen and the hitman.

In addition, Mora is careful not to depict the relationship between Paula and Jesús as a romantic one, as in a Stockholm syndrome situation. Although the growing attraction between them becomes an important element of the narrative, Mora’s vision stays unaltered and that is to focus on the complex fabric of violence existing in Colombia and the importance of understanding the experience of the other as an act of resistance. Through these two characters Killing Jesus touches on post-conflict resolution in Colombia, particularly the challenges posed by the current peace process, which has found the country divided between those who are willing to forgive the killers in order to reach a peace agreement and those who are totally against negotiations with former guerrilla groups. Mora’s work exemplifies the generational changeover taking place in Colombia and how culture and, particularly, film, are playing an important role in helping to create dialogues between their nationals while re-shaping the image of the country.

Words by Amaya Bañuelos Marco

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