Javier Bardem is Pablo Escobar and Penélope Cruz is his long-time lover Virginia Vallejo, in this jarring deconstruction of the drug lord’s enigmatic persona, adapted from Vallejo’s memoir Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar.
The life of the notorious and enigmatic Pablo Escobar has been a popular subject for authors, filmmakers, and showrunners (most recently with the Netflix series Narcos). In Spanish filmmaker Fernando León de Aranoa's Loving Pablo, based on the book by Escobar's long-time lover Virginia Vallejo, we see the rise and fall of the drug lord from the viewpoint of someone who was involved with him intimately. Her perspective qualifies the romantic image of Escobar so common in other depictions and makes the revelation of his brutality all the more jarring.
When popular journalist and TV presenter Virginia (Penélope Cruz) first meets Pablo (Javier Bardem, also appearing at this year's Festival in mother! and as a featured guest in our In Conversation With… programme), she's enchanted by his charisma, charity work, and the lavish gifts she receives. She doesn't bother to question where the money comes from or at what cost it is earned. Over time, her infatuation is replaced by a terrifying awareness. When Pablo declares war against the Colombian government, initiating a period of unprecedented violence, Virginia's career is ruined and she begins to receive death threats. Her only hope is to collaborate with the Americans in dogged pursuit of Escobar.
Bardem and Cruz give outstanding performances, capturing in all its complexity the couple's volatile relationship. As Virginia's realization of Pablo's cruelty begins to sink in, León's camera pivots from glamorous images to the macabre. Disturbing and thought-provoking, Loving Pablo explores the political climate and corrupt society that allowed Escobar's ascent, while forcing us to question our own fascination with this inscrutable persona.