Sins of My Father

If you didn’t watch the early seasons of Entourage, or need a little history refresher, the story of Pablo Escobar begins with a man who saw an opportunity in the cocaine business, who turned this cocaine business into a cocaine monopoly, who built up popularity into invincibility, and who manipulated the Columbian government for years to avoid extradition before finally being killed. To his family, he was a man who enjoyed games and traveling, a man who enjoyed providing for his family, who would do anything, even ride the roller coasters he disliked at Disney World so his son could have the best time. There were many facets to Pablo Escobar, facets that involved drugs, charities, politics, various lovers and one-night stands, gambling over soccer teams, and a vivid home and family life. People are fascinated with Pablo Escobar, but he is not the main topic of the documentary Sins of My Father. Instead, the documentary is meant to throw its audience emotionally into the life of Escobar’s son, Juan Pablo Escobar, now known as Sebastian, who, with his mother and sister, escaped to Argentina in the mid '90s to change names and begin a new life. This has been a hard road, paved with its own challenges. In its climax the film wants us to see a young man making amends in order to return to Colombia, his home. A documentary, if done correctly, can apply one of two tactics, presenting either a slew of facts shown in a sensible order, or a barrage of emotions building to an epic climax. Nicolas Entel’s second documentary, Sins of My Father, attempts both, to conflicting effect. When presented with facts only meant to provide a basis for feelings, a desire for more substantial factoids fills our bellies. And when we see the sad, broken emotions of the men left behind after their father’s deaths, reworking arguments that have been dissected for so long they are historical, we find the emotion difficult to connect with, to imagine. It is this emotion that is repeated until it plays out like a broken record on the screen.

Pablo Escobar’s son is a small man, small in a way that has nothing to do with stature and everything to do with his presentation as a son convinced repeatedly that he must pay for his father’s sins. This is a foreign concept -- children are not expected to become alcoholics, or gangsters, criminals, or drug lords, just because their fathers are, though these things do happen sometimes. Children are not expected to pay for childhood situations that were beyond their control. What is within control is whether or not these children choose to be haunted by the demons of their past or to move beyond them. For Sebastian to carry these burdens on his back makes us curious. Is this a by-product of his mother, the expectations of his society, or a product of his own gloomy thoughts? Or, is this merely Entel’s vision, to angle Sebastian’s story as one of repenting to rid himself of the past? In this moment the documentary chooses emotion over fact, and the truth is not revealed.

So we cut to the Colombian men who agree to meet Sebastian, the sons of Luis Carlos Galán and Lara Bonilla -- men Pablo Escobar was responsible for killing -- who are unhappy to be going through these unnecessary motions. We can see this in their tough, stoic faces, their shifty eyes and clenched movements. Sebastian does not speak first, but when he does, he pushes to move beyond discomfort. So we watch the young men do this miserable dance, with both sides struggling to find the correct words to suit the moment when they meet, to say the most diplomatic thing without triggering whatever feelings are still held in the pits of their stomachs. This is the film’s climax, a moment meant to relieve the men of the trouble between them, a moment that could allow the men forgive each other and be at peace. When the sons of Galan and Bonilla relate to Escobar that there is nothing to be forgiven, our biggest criticisms are given weight as Entel’s project begins to lose steam. The only realization that ever comes from this film is one we’ve known all along: people are only punished for the sins of their fathers if they punish themselves.

Pablo Escobar was a man who cheated at everything, even Monopoly. His son is a man who has hidden from everyone, even his country. They are both men who were forced to present facades of themselves to the public. This is all they have in common. Escobar’s son presents himself as a man at peace, a man looking for forgiveness, a man looking to free himself from his father's deeds and world. I would be hard pressed to believe this is all Escobar’s son is. But we are only given this view, this tiny sliver of a half moon that shines only a little light on Sebastian’s life. It’s not enough to give us a full story, merely a glimmer of one, but it’s enough concrete evidence to give us an idea of what we could be missing. If there was a real story here, Entel didn’t find it. If there was a story. Everything was created pretty cheaply here, so even the movies advertised are shitty, straight-to-DVD fare. The DVD itself is pretty devoid of special features, excepting the director’s commentary. This commentary, like the film itself, can be played in either English or Spanish, with or without subtitles. The bright point of the commentary comes at the very beginning with information about the animated sequence that occurs in the opening of the film. This sequence is beautiful, and full of information about the cocaine trade that segues nicely into the main topic of the film. I wish there had been a whole segment on the making of the animation for the opener.

Other than that, the commentary covers what information the filmmakers chose to use and to what lengths they went in order to find imagery that hadn’t been used in a documentary on the Escobar family before. This stuff is impressive, and would probably be interesting to Escobar buffs, but it makes for a really long director's cut, otherwise. Especially when the fact-based stuff is broken up by a ton of comments like, “This is where we shot at the hacienda” and “This is where I interjected myself into the film.” You get the gist.