Dir: Barbet Schroeder. France-Colombia. 2000. 96 mins.

Prod cos: Les Films du Losange, Le Studio Canal Plus, Vertigo Films, Tucan Producciones Cinematograficas, with the participation of Canal Plus. Int'l sales: StudioCanal, tel: (33) 1 44 43 98 00. Prods: Margaret Menegoz, Barbet Schroeder. Scr: Fernando Vallejo from his novel La Virgen De Los Sicarios. DoP: Rodrigo Lalinde. Prod des: Monica Marulanda. Ed: Elsa Vasquez. Mus: Jorge Arriagada. Main cast: German Jaramillo, Anderson Ballesteros, Juan David Restrepo, Manuel Busquets.

After a trio of mediocre Hollywood studio movies - Single White Female, Kiss Of Death, Before And After - Barbet Schroeder returns to his independent roots with this sombre French-financed drama set in the notoriously dangerous city of Medellin in Colombia. Shot on high definition, the film is a self-penned adaptation of Fernando Vallejo's semi-autobiographical novel about a disillusioned gay writer who returns to Medellin after 30 years away and comes face to face with the appalling levels of random killings and gang murders which plague the lawless city.

It's a brutal, hard-to-stomach film shot with Schroeder's trademark restraint and distance. Yet German Jaramillo's strong performance as Vallejo and the rare, evidently accurate depiction of a city and country ravaged by the drug trade will have audiences both moved and shaking their head in disbelief. A domestic sale should follow on from its world premiere in Telluride and competition slot in Venice, but it will be a challenge for distributors, who can't even count on the gay audience since Vallejo's predilection for teenage boys is hardly likely to resonate with the majority of gay men.

Reminiscent of Vertigo in plot structure, it starts with Vallejo paying for sex with 16 year-old Alexis (Anderson Ballesteros). The two begin a relationship of sorts but Vallejo quickly realises that his young lover has murders to his name, packs a gun and shoots anyone who causes him offence, like the neighbour who plays his drumset too loudly.

When Alexis inevitably bites the bullet courtesy of a rival drug gang, Vallejo embarks on another relationship with 16 year-old Wilmar who looks and behaves just like Alexis. But Wilmar's past will have shattering ramifications for them both. The ease with which Vallejo accepts the casual killing is at the film's chilling heart. Life sure is cheap in Medellin.