Directed by Jeff, Michael Zimbalist
The Death of Stalin is a dark comedy about the power struggle in the wake of Josef Stalin’s death. It’s funny, frankly, because it combines the familiar drive of those with political ambitions today with the lawlessness of a time and place in which you could make many of your problems go away with a bullet to the head. The comedy works because it’s so absurd, and yet that’s the not so long ago world depicted in The Two Escobars, a documentary about the intersection between Colombia’s drug problem and the rise of its national soccer team in the early 1990s. It tells this story through Pablo Escobar, the famous drug kingpin, and Andres Escobar, one of the leaders of the national team. After scoring a fateful own goal in the 1994 World Cup, Andres Escobar would be murdered.
Going into the documentary I had a very black and white sense of what the story was about. I figured Pablo Escobar had ordered the hit on Andres, but the former in fact dies before the latter. Late in the documentary one person interviewed suggests that were Pablo Escobar still alive, Andres would be too.
Pablo Escobar was a revered figure by many living in poverty because he did a lot to help out those communities. Yes, his money was certainly tainted, and yes he did some terrible things to maintain power (rampant political assassinations), but the documentary makes sure to show just how beloved he was. The footage of his funeral makes it seem like that’s Christ himself in the casket.
For better or worse, Pablo Escobar’s reign offered control which I didn’t fully realize until after his death. With him gone, multiple other forces became empowered to try and fill the hole in the market and act as though they were in charge. We’re led to believe that it was this sudden power struggle that led to Andres Escobar’s death.
The movie alternates between the story of Escobar’s rise to power (and subsequent fall) and the story of the Colombian national team. With the help of people like Pablo Escobar the soccer team was revitalized with drug money, suddenly able to keep their star players, and they went on an incredible run to qualify for the World Cup. After Andres Escobar’s death many left the team, just about all of them in fear for their lives, and we’re told the soccer team hasn’t made a World Cup since (this was in 2010, and the team made it back in 2014).
The most striking element of this story is the transparency with which Pablo Escobar (and other cartel leaders) conducted their business. We see Escobar on the sideline being interviewed during matches involving the team he owned for some time, and later we see him win an election to the House of Representatives. His backstory was widely known, and yet he was able to succeed for sometime because of all the people he supported. With great money comes great power, I suppose.
Escobar was able to flourish because of a deeper economic problem in the country, and the national soccer team was seen as a breath of fresh air, a way to change the global narrative of Colombia and its most visible criminal.
Up Next: Minding the Gap (2018), The Ice Harvest (2005), St. Nick (2009)