As sprawling and chaotic as the city in which it’s set, “Rosario Tijeras” wraps a sexy noir romance around violent social reality and revels unselfconsciously in the resulting excesses. Featuring the panther-like, gun-toting Flora Martinez as a lens-friendly street girl exacting revenge on the late-’80s Medellin society that’s abused her, pic is soap opera with a twist, but concealed within are powerful, memorable sequences. The cult status the pic garnered in Colombia, where it was a B.O. smash following its summer 2005 release, could transfer to Hispanic territories, while its high-octane subject may generate offshore arthouse play.
Medellin in 1989 was a notoriously dangerous place where drug barons employed teenagers, known as sicarios, to do their killing. Rosario (Martinez) is rushed to a hospital by Antonio (Spanish thesp Unax Ugalde). The story flashes back to introverted Antonio and coke-sniffing rich-kid buddy Emilio (Manolo Cardona) meeting Rosario at a disco. Rosario sees the boys as a way out of the misery of her existence as a high-class hooker and sicario.Rosario shoots a guy who’s been hassling her, necessitating the trio make a hasty escape from the disco.
Rosario, a legend among those who know her for her habit of killing her victims while she’s kissing them, is sent away with a gringo drug dealer, Donovan (Alex Cox in a typically edgy role). Her bitterness builds still further, and the explosion comes with the death of her sicario brother Johnefe (Rodrigo Oviedo).
A following, stunning sequence has Johnefe’s buddies taking him out for a ride through the city in an open-topped car and to a disco for a last night out, sunglasses on, cigarette between his lips — and dead. It’s an unforgettable visual that moves the pic from the realm of soap opera into something closer to the potent social realism of Victor Gaviria’s “The Rose Seller.”
The action shuttles, not always coherently, between past and present and different points of view; less-than-fluid editing doesn’t help. Martinez spends much of the early part of pic either naked or half-naked, but her relish for the role of damaged, mission-driven woman, despite being saddled with sub-soap dialogue, comes over despite the camera’s shamelessly voyeuristic treatment of her.
Unax is a reliable thesp who handles the Medellin argot well, but other roles lack nuance. The fact the characters are spouting high-passion B-movie cliches most of the time works oddly well, however, since these are self-mythologizers acting out tough-guy roles.
Production values are notably upscale for Latin American fare, reflecting the decent-sized budget. Pascal Marti’s lensing evokes this photogenic city across a range of moods, and is particularly striking when moving through the hellish, muddied streets of its mountainside suburbs. For the record, Rosario’s surname means “scissors,” and refers to one particularly unpleasant act of revenge.