Running time: 90 mins
Director: Nicolas Entel
Nicolas Entel, more used to corporate productions and music videos for the likes of Wyclef Jean and KT Tunstall, as well as his first feature length documentary about a globe-trotting tango orchestra from Buenos Aires (Orquesta Tipica), had his work cut out for to his latest offering, My Father Pablo Escobar. Also known as Sins Of My Father, the young director documents the difficult journey of Sebastian Marroquin who seeks atonement for his father who was at one time the world’s Most Wanted man.
The film covers a three year period, starting in 2007, when Sebastian, having settled in Buenos Aires, is to afraid to return to his homeland, and will go no further than the Colombia/Ecuador border. By 2009, Sebastian returns to Bogota to meet and seek forgiveness from the sons of the politicians Escobar had assassinated in his lust for power.
Most of the documentary is comprised of footage from national news archives, as well as videos from the Escobar family’s private collection, recorded telephone calls and radio broadcasts. The film does not shy away from showing the atrocities for which Escobar is responsible, but Marroquin is also eager to portray his father as a family man and patriot. Regardless of Escobar’s attributes and deficiencies, it is an incredible account…
The grim opening footage where Escobar’s coffin is repeatedly opened and closed, to reveal his motionless, bloated face indicates the scepticism of a crowd who cannot believe he is dead. It is, after all, the corpse of a man who was once in control of 80% of the world’s cocaine, stupendously rich, and able to amend Colombia’s constitution at will. This is contrasted with a man who loved nothing more than to spoil his children, who would use a nature encyclopaedia as a catalogue to create his own zoo of exotic animals. The family’s home videos are truly something to behold; animals, airplanes, jet skis – every extravagance imaginable. However, Sebastian remembers his father had such a strong competitive streak that he would cheat his children at Monopoly.
Ruling the underworld was not enough for Escobar, and when he began buying his way into politics, the problems started and then ended in civil war. Escobar was charitable; he built homes for 5000 people living in the municipal dump. He then used his popularity to garner support for Rogerigo Lara Bonilla and Luis Carlos Galan, founders of the New Liberal Party. Bonilla and Galan were displeased to be linked with a drug baron, regardless of his ‘Robin Hood’ reputation, and expelled him from the party. This rejection made the men targets for a wrathful Escobar, who instead bought his way into congress. As soon as Bonilla was made Minister of Justice, he ordered a raid of one of Escobar’s processing plants, recovering 13 tons of cocaine with a street value of $1.2 billion. In 1984, Escobar had Bonilla assassinated and escaped to Panama. What follows is the story of a father and son on the run, one from his deeds, the other from the future that was written for him.
One of the strengths of Entel’s film is that he records showing archive material to the sons of Bonilla and Galan, twenty years later the pain and disbelief is still pasted across their faces. The audacity and monomania of Escobar is apparent from the contradictory and manipulative speech he made when he turned himself in to the authorities on his own terms. The same goes for Sebastian’s initial email in February 2008, we see five suited and obviously powerful men around a laptop looking lost, but also moved at his words of peace and reconciliation.
Sebastian himself cuts a desperate figure; he has succeeded in forging a more moral path than his father, and is very different from the distraught teenager who declared revenge on his father’s murderer. He realises, “I’ve lost the right to get angry,” and admits “I cannot understand my own father’s character.”
It is a documentary about men, fathers and sons, and to some extent, machismo. Sebastian is paying for his father’s foolhardy behaviour, and there are very few women present in this documentary, apart from his mother. She seems a rather powerless figure, authority passes from father to son, and it was due to Sebastian’s quick thinking that the family escaped Colombia after his father broke out of prison. One is reminded of the arrogance of Mesrine, Richet’s film cleverly portrays its protagonist as someone who claims to be a political idealist, but is more interested in unfettered access to the finer things in life. Arguably this is the case with Escobar, but Entel does not go so far as to join the dots – he is, after all, dealing with a very loyal subject in Sebastian.
The film does end on a moral note, when Sebastian eventually returned to Colombia he discovered “everyone wants to be Pablo Escobar” – a glamorous lifestyle funded by cocaine is something he seeks to discourage by showing the human price.
The blood and body count of My Father Pablo Escobar sends out a powerful message: it shows the extent of terrorism in a developing country, where drugs dictate the political agenda and appear to the public as the only source of prosperity. This potentially explosive subject material is crafted into a cry for reconciliation and hope by a promising young documentary-maker.
Also posted at http://www.subtitledonline.com/