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Guilty Men

Iván D. Gaona

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A town leader in rural Colombia plays a risky game with the local right-wing paramilitaries with a cache of cash at stake, in this gripping crime story about ordinary people caught in a situation that rapidly slips out of their control.

The central northern department of Santander, being home to Colombia's biggest oil refinery, ranks among the country's wealthiest regions — and is especially vulnerable to right-wing paramilitaries seeking to siphon funds off the local economy. In 2005, the country held its breath as President Álvaro Uribe prepared to initiate a demobilization treaty with paramilitary commanders. This is the setting for Guilty Men, a gripping crime story about ordinary people caught in a situation that rapidly slips out of their control.

In the rural Santander village of Güepsa, Willington (Willington Gordillo) and a handful of other men are charged with managing the town's extortion payments to the local paramilitaries. When their contact is killed during a clandestine transaction, the men have conflicting ideas about what to do with the money left in their hands. Keeping it would put their lives at risk, but then again, once Uribe's treaty is signed, los paras might leave Güepsa altogether. Willington has other problems, too. He's in love with Mariana (Leidy Herrera), who is pregnant and engaged to marry someone else.

As Willington's attentions are divided between negotiating with his cohorts and finding a way to eliminate his rival, news reports build anticipation for the inauguration of the treaty, which could change everything — or could be just an empty political gesture, another way of facilitating dirty business as usual.

Laden with double-crosses and tangled allegiances — and boasting an excellent soundtrack of salsa, cumbia, and rock tunes taken from Willington's beloved collection of mixtapes — writer-director Iván D. Gaona's suspenseful feature debut is imbued with a bold sense of place. Guilty Men elegantly merges a tense moment in recent Colombian history with a universal story of greed and corruption.

DIANA SANCHEZ

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