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CIFF Review: On The Edge Of Our Seats At 'I Will Be Murdered'

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 16, 2013 6:00PM

2013_10_16_Murdered.jpg This is part of Chicagoist's coverage of the Chicago International Film Festival.

"Guatemala is a good place to commit a murder," a U.N. official once said, "because you will almost certainly get away with it." But what if the victim recorded a video naming their murderer just before being shot five times in the head? And what if the accusatory video blew up on YouTube and soon was playing on movie screens erected at mass protests demanding justice?

What if the alleged murderer was the president of the country?

This is just the set-up for the riveting and chilling story director Justin Webster has to tell in I Will Be Murdered, screening in the documentary category at this year's Chicago International Film Festival. Unspooling this ripped-from-the-headlines material over the course of 85 minutes in a manner intended to maximize suspense, I Will Be Murdered should be in the running for best thriller of the festival, non-fiction or otherwise. There are a couple of twists in this tale which prevent us from a spoiler-free plot summary, but if you somehow missed or have forgotten this scandalous episode from 2009, stay off of Wikipedia and get a ticket for tonight's show.

Relying heavily on interviews with the son of victim Rodrigo Rosenberg's and Carlos Castresana, the head of the United Nations Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala who led the investigation, the film functions like a Columbo episode run off the rails by a Dateline producer. Beginning with the victim naming his murderer, the audience's appetite for swift justice is whetted just enough before being delayed again and again by an unexpected turn in the case or a bit of background characterization.

Marshaling this amount of evidence and testimony into a coherent story while retaining some narrative shocks is no small feat. It's a complex crime investigation, told with a good measure of skill but also employing some distracting re-enactment footage, banking on the graphical idiom of the now ubiquitous forensic crime investigation teleplay. Still, there is plenty of lean meat underneath those fatty bits to make for a satisfying experience.

The State Department rates the risk of violent crime in Guatemala as "critical," but we may look back on the year of the events depicted in this film as the breaking point, when 95 percent of violent crimes went unpunished and the Rosenberg murder precipitated a political crisis. Things are getting better there now, which goes to show that any political crisis (no matter how serious it seems at the time) can get something of a happy ending and be transformed into an enthralling movie in no time at all. (If there's not a debt ceiling movie at CIFF in 2015, we'll be calling for a special U.N. investigator of our own.)

I Will Be Murdered screens tonight at 6:15 p.m. as part of the Chicago International Film Festival. Director Justin Webster will attend the screening. More details and tickets are available on their website.