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Talk about bad timing. As the current pedophilia scandal rocks America, a film like Our Lady of the Assassins is difficult to digest. This cinematic celebration of man-boy love would be unsettling enough even without today’s troubles in the Catholic Church. But don’t expect pornographic trash at this Saturday’s screening at the Hopkins Center.

Director Barbet Schroeder — whose more commercial Murder by Numbers is now playing nationwide with Sandra Bullock in the starring role — has created a disturbing art-house tale about an aging writer with a penchant for young male lovers in the violent milieu of contemporary Colombia. Although shot in digital video with almost documentary-style immediacy, Our Lady is a long meditation on the misery of Medellin.

When he returns home after living abroad for 30 years, Fernando — portrayed by German Jaramillo — feels more cynicism than shock in reaction to the terrible changes that have taken place in his absence. The reigning drug culture has transformed a once graceful city into purgatory. Teenage gangs rule, cathedrals have become crack houses, the morgues are full and there are road signs that make a futile request: “no dumping of corpses.”

Too world-weary for outrage, Fernando invests all his energy and money into domesticating a streetwise, gun-toting adolescent named Alexis, played by Anderson Ballesteros. A newly-purchased stereo and TV aren’t enough to keep the kid occupied — when they’re not in bed together — so the couple strolls through the troubled town. Our Lady becomes a travelogue of despair, as they witness a society immersed in chaos and dominated by an ornate religion that is too remote to offer an antidote.

These evening constitutionals also give Alexis an opportunity to display his talent for murder. With dispassion, he blows away enemies as well as people who merely annoy him. The initially horrified Fernando quickly adapts, becoming complicit in the crimes.

Based on an autobiographical 1994 novel by Fernando Vallejo, the film is another curious chapter in Schroeder’s eclectic career. This is the same guy who provided a poetic glimpse of alcoholism in Barfly, a look at the intersection of affluence and decadence in the Oscar-nominated Reversal of Fortune and an examination of psychotic obsession in Single White Female.

But Our Lady lacks credibility. Fernando’s relationship with the somewhat vacant Alexis is conveyed as an otherwise happy affair marred by the sociological reality of Colombia. Never mind that it’s sexual abuse of a minor; how blissfully compatible can an upper-class, fifty-something intellectual and an uneducated child of poverty possibly be?

short takes: Get ready for Bessie-mania! Well, not really. Although the biennial Vermont Stage and Screen Awards fancies itself the state’s equivalent of Oscars and Tonys combined, the excitement has never exactly been palpable as the big night approaches. That’s Saturday, June 15 at St. Michael’s College. The Burlington City Arts event includes dinner, a silent auction, an awards ceremony and a cocktail hour-and-a-half.

For Flick Chick purposes, let’s stick to this year’s slate of Bessie-worthy films: One of only two features eligible for a People’s Choice nod, Swimming on the Moon by Shawn Sweeney of Burlington, addresses the issue of death-with-dignity for an elderly woman. The other drama is Jay Craven’s The Year That Trembled, about the political counterculture of the early 1970s.

Eight shorts — some just a few minutes long — have been chosen, with subjects ranging from a father helping his son on a newspaper delivery route to chronic sleepwalking. A Simple Hit, by Anders Burrows of Brattleboro, concerns an assassination gone wrong. Talcum, a psychological thriller, is the work of Queen City resident Mark Christopher Covino.

The six entries in the documentary category tackle some tough topics. A Parallel World, by Mira Niagolova of Essex, explores the postwar situation in a Kosovo refugee camp. With A Moment in Time, Montpelier’s Joan Brace O’Neal zeros in on a fatal car crash involving four teens. You can see most of them in a May Movie Showcase beginning this Friday on cable access television stations throughout Vermont. Without dressing up...

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