This is the unusual work of Sins of the Father, to convey the pain felt by victims of Pablo Escobar, but also to assert the urgency of reconciliation.
"My life was worth $4 million," says Sebastián Marroquín. "That's the price they put on my head. They offered that to a friend of mine in exchange for poisoning my soda." At the time, in 1993, Sebastián was just 16 years old. He was confused and angry, if not precisely surprised by the news he was a target. His father had just been killed, after all. His father, Pablo Escobar.
Sebastián's ordeal forms the center of Sins of My Father (Pecados de Mi Padre). Now 33, he remembers hearing from a reporter that Colombian police had killed his father, as you see footage of the body being removed from the Medellín compound where Escobar had been hiding. Strapped to a gurney, bloated and bloodied, the once mighty Escobar is reduced here to abject spectacle. You hear Sebastián's voice on a phone call recorded then, "We don’t want to talk right now," he says. "But I am going to personally kill the sons of bitches who did it."
Today, Sebastián sympathizes with his former self. "In such a violent situation," he says, "Any teenager might have reacted in the same way, but because I had that last name, it was not acceptable." And so he and his mother, Maria Isabel Santos, left Colombia: after discussions with Germany, Peru, Brazil, the U.S., South Africa (all nations that turned them back), they finally found uneasy refuge in Buenos Aires. Here, so close to home they feared they'd be discovered, they changed their names and lived quietly as long as they could. Sebastián studied architecture and industrial design. With no interest in revenge or the drug business, he hoped never to have to speak about or confront directly his father's awful legacy.
And yet, he's speaking now, in Nicolás Entel's film, which premieres 4 October on HBO. At first, it follows a regular-seeming trajectory, in Sebastián's memories of his childhood. His father was generous, he says, if an inveterate cheater at Monopoly, bestowing all manner of toys on his children, buying ostriches and hippos and big cats for himself and expensive art for his wife (Forbes estimated Escobar's worth at some $9 billion in 1989). A home movie from 1981 reveals the immensity of the estate Escobar named Hacienda Nápoles, as well as young Sebastián's childhood exploits, riding in private planes and staying in the finest U.S. hotels with his father, riding motorbikes and speedboats, smiling in a pool and sitting on Escobar's lap. "I was a rich spoiled brat," he says, "I got everything I wanted."
Even as Sebastián recalls how his father "helped the poor," building dozens of soccer fields and the Barrio Pablo Escobar (still standing), he also looks back on the violence and corruption that sustained his "Robin Hood" image. Looming large throughout this saga are the assassinations of Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, the Minister of Justice who denounced Escobar (and was killed) in 1984, and Luis Carlos Galán, founder of the Nuevo Liberalismo Party, presidential candidate, and also an outspoken critic of Escobar (murdered in 1989).
As Sebastián contemplates the effects of such violence on him ("Our daily lives changed drastically," he says, "Fear took over, the goal was to survive," pursued by the police, other cartels, and a loose organization of variously aggrieved parties called "Los Pepes"), he also asks how violence has shaped the lives of others, including the sons of Bonilla and Galán. When Sebastián asks the filmmakers to deliver a letter to Rodrigo Lara as well as Galán's three sons, Carlos, Claudio, and Juan Manuel, the film takes a turn. The camera cuts between Sebastián typing and his recipients reading, their concentration and consternation visible. The film is no longer only observing Sebastián's coming to terms with his father's odium, returning to Colombia to speak publicly about Escobar, the Medellín Cartel, the U.S. interference (via the DEA, CIA, and Special Forces), and especially the need to change "cycles of violence." It is now engaged in the process of reconciliation of finding a way to "move forward."
More significantly, the sons all use the film as a way to model that movement. "The letter was a gesture that demanded a response," says Rodrigo. "It is a well written letter that comes from the heart." With this, the film becomes increasingly complex in structure, shaping that response. As it provides historical context by way of Sebastián's collection of photos and moving images, as well as archival news footage, it also cuts repeatedly to the present, insisting on the effects of "history" on individuals, on families and communities.
When Rodrigo agrees to meet Sebastián on a park bench in Argentina, the two young men sit awkwardly, repeating how pleased they are to meet one another, and also sorting through the desires for revenge they both felt when their fathers were killed. Rodrigo notes, "The criminal mind thinks that you have to kill not only your enemy but also their heirs." Each has a necessarily different experience with this truism, and yet, they agree, as Sebastián puts it, "We can't keep feeding this circle of anger or we'll never get out."
When Rodrigo, now a senator, approaches Galán's sons (also working as public servants, as a senator, a city councilman, and a city planner), they ponder their next step. The camera watches each face separately and intently. The question is not whether they will meet with Sebastián, but what might be going through their minds on this remarkable occasion. Even when they share their thoughts, with each other and with Sebastián, concerning both Escobar and the state's own brutality in seeking vengeance, the film makes clear that their pain, loss, and self-understanding must also remain beyond words. This is the unusual work of Sins of the Father, to convey the intricacy of such experiences, and at the same time assert the urgency of reconciliation.