Colombia has endured one of the region’s most prolonged and deadliest conflicts in the Americas. While there have been other films about the conflict, few have captured the pain, fear and sense of fatalism so deeply and so personally as La Milagrosa, directed by Rafael Lara
The film tries to not play any side and shows each to be at turns dogmatic, cruel and yet completely human. The FARC rebels continue to hark on and on about long-dead ideals while they kidnap rich children and allow cocaine to be grown in their zones of control. However, their fight is informed by genuine grievances stemming from poverty to outright oppression. The right-wing paramilitaries shoot and kill civilians seemingly at random while continuing the tired lies of defending the nation from the red menace, and the upper class hardly show themselves to be better with their indifference at best to the plight of the poor.
This is still a survival movie, however, and while one might question the need to include the issue of class in a film where many of the scenes take place in a hut, the truth is, class affects everything. Everyone, the guerillas, the politicians and the military have had their worldviews shaped by their upbringing and out of all of them, no one tries to understand each other. Rich kid Eduardo (Antonio Merlano) does not come off as likable in the first minutes of the film. As a sign of the director’s and the actor’s skill, he is transformed from a bratty kid into a vulnerable yet defiant prisoner. His once youthful face changes into a haggard and disheveled one, his manner of speaking to one of deference but still willing to make sharply-worded comebacks.
Other films have shown what its like to be kidnapped but La Milagrosa shows the worldview and logic of those who have resorted to kidnapping. Mayra, (Monica Gomez) and her brother Lagarto (Guillermo Ivan) come off as the two more human faces of the film. This is no accident since La Milagrosa is in part their story as well. They, like Eduardo are becoming sick of a war that has lost all its meaning a long time ago.
The director has made a wise choice in showing this dynamic since it would be a much easier road to make a simple “we vs. them” film and show Eduardo as a martyr-figure. Lara shows quite effectively, just how arbitrary life and death decisions are in the jungle when a patrol goes wrong and the paranoia exhibited by Eduardo and the guerrillas are on full display. While this is not necessarily a war or action film, there are two impressive battle scenes that are the equal of any Hollywood production.
Besides the director, the reason that the film rings so true is that the actor Merlano was almost kidnapped twice in real life and as he stated in a Q+A session after the film at the New York International Film Festival. This influenced his own performance in the film and this was his way of coming to terms with what very easily could have happened in real life. Indeed, the end credits of the film show in pure numbers what the conflict has done to such an undeserving country. An audience member remarked the stark juxtaposition on the compassion and generosity of the Colombian people and the cruel reality the country has lived through during the past few decades. While the situation in has calmed down remarkably, this is a useful reminder for a time and place where any talk of peace would be met with laughter and where peace of mind would indeed be considered a miracle. Truly one of the gems of the New York International Festival.