“Loving Pablo … and also the movie?”
Amongst an array of reviews which choose to focus on Javier Bardem’s overindulgent prosthetic belly and “flabby buttocks” fleeing through the forest (The Guardian), Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s Loving Pablo, has received multiple accusations of being a poorly-executed Scorsese wannabe that doesn’t quite succeed in giving a new retelling to an already heavily covered story.
However, whilst the Gatsby/Goodfellas-esque glamour in the party scene at Escobar’s hacienda Napoles, along with Penelope Cruz’s elaborate outfits and overly-coiffed hair may lead to such impressions of an off-the-mark attempt at a Scorsese recreation, to not see beyond these superficialities would mean missing the point behind Aranoa’s piece entirely.
Whatever the film may botch stylistically, it makes up for by staying true to the Colombian, Latin American aspects that other Escobar stories such as Narcos seem to ignore, for example with a Brazilian playing Escobar’s character, something hardly credible to the Latin American audience.
Further to this, Loving Pablo was shot as often as possible on location in places that Escobar frequented, and the cast even includes real life soldiers who fought against Pablo, giving the film more validity than some of its counterparts.
Indeed, Virginia Vallejo herself claims that the hit Netflix drama Narcos “portrayed [her] as a pervert” for the sake of better characterization to enhance the plot, that “the purpose of the script was to defame [her] brutally and rape [her] in front of millions of people”. In comparison, Loving Pablo tries to tell the story through her eyes by *supposedly* showing her moral dilemma as she becomes unwillingly complicit in his actions. This is not wholly successful, however, as Cruz’s voice over becomes a narrative tool that converts Vallejo’s character into a sort of omniscient narrator rather than playing an active role in the film.
The fiery coupling of Spanish actors Bardem and Cruz is often viewed as the main plus point of the film, not only for their chemistry as a pair of actors but for their free-flowing, heavily accented speech that often slips into Spanish colloquialisms, bringing the viewer back from the world of Hollywood glamour into the depths of Colombia.
This being said, it can feel at times as though the need to reach the international box office became more important than staying true to Colombianidad. For example, the decision to film in English but with thick Colombian accents makes the film feel awkward and clunky until the characters slip into Castellano, giving an insight into what the film could have been if they had managed to obtain funding for a purely Spanish-language film. However, this perhaps reflects the internationality of Escobar’s infamy as it proves that events happening within Colombia were not just isolated to Colombia but in fact affected the whole world.
What makes this interpretation all the more poignant is that it does not attempt to glorify the world of drugs, money and violence, but instead shows it in a more sober light. Even the colour scheme transitions from the lively, bright palette of Colombia to the sombre tones of darkness and despair, an important thing when dealing with such a polemic topic to idolise.
In much the same way, the vile aspects of all characters – Escobar, Vallejo, Colombians and Americans alike – is shown, relaying the important message that Escobar has been given an idolised representation within the international audience, with foreigners travelling to Colombia to lay flowers at his grave and visit his house to play paintball and swim as though it were a theme park in some sort of immoral pilgrimage.
The film also leaves the ending open to interpretation as there is much debate over who actually killed Pablo Escobar. Whilst the obvious answer seems to be the DEA, as shown in the photo of them holding guns and smiling on the rooftop around his body, people claim that members of the Secret Block – the Colombian force created with the sole purpose of capturing Escobar – were on the scene helping the DEA at the time and that one of their soldiers delivered the fatal shot. Alternatively, Escobar’s family claim that he actually shot himself as the bullet entered the skull at the precise angle he had always taught them to aim for in the case that they had to kill themselves to avoid torture or imprisonment. This adaptation does not show who shot Escobar, and leaves it equally open to interpretation. This is contrary to the evidence published by American authorities suggesting that they were solely responsible for Escobar’s end.
Perhaps the varied reception of this film comes from differences in perception between Latin American and English-speaking audiences, and from what they have become used to seeing or understanding as fact in relation to Escobar’s story. This particular adaptation is designed to satisfy different desires, originally intended as a film for the Spanish-speaking audiences who were most affected by Escobar’s actions, rather than for the English-speaking audiences who have been fed glamorised and idealised perceptions of his world.