During the marijuana bonanza, a violent decade that saw the origins of drug trafficking in Colombia, Rapayet and his indigenous family get involved in a war to control the business that ends up destroying their lives and their culture.
Ciro Guerra’s follow up to the sublime and mesmerising ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ is another film set in his native Colombia, this time focusing on the early days of illegal drug trading. ‘Birds of Passage’ (co-directed with Cristina Gallego) is an epic crime film, charting the rise and fall of a Wayuu family who get involved in the trade of marijuana in the late 1960s. It’s the story of a crime dynasty but it’s also a story about the Wayuu people and the lifestyle they lead, and the conflict between tradition and the drive for prosperity is what helps ‘Birds of Passage’ provide an original take on a well-trodden genre.
The film is divided into five chapters, each of which are denoted by a song and cover different time periods in the story. Over these chapters we see the formidable matriarch of the Wayuu tribe increase her involvement in the drug trade after initial hostility, and we see a young boy grow into a sociopathic adult, with dire consequences for those around him. All of these journeys are mapped out meticulously, with each end action a direct result of the decisions and choices these characters make to get them to this point. The discovery of marijuana initially brings prosperity to the tribe but that is soon followed by corruption and a domino effect that threatens to destroy the entire tribe. There are no fakeouts, lucky escapes or twists, merely ordinary people who find themselves in a situation that spirals out of their control, and it’s thrilling to watch after the initially slow build up.
There aren’t many films or filmmakers so adept at capturing the friction between an older, more traditional way of life and modernity and ‘Birds of Passage’ superbly captures this. The involvement in the drug trade brings change faster than anyone can imagine and this creates new opportunities for old tensions and conflicts to rise to the surface and the characters are unable to reconcile the two approaches. Leonardo Heiblum’s score thrums and impinges into your conscience, encapsulating this tension, and the poetic detours into ancient songs and myth blend perfectly with the more traditional trappings of the crime genre.
‘Birds of Passage’ isn’t quite as arresting a piece of work as ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ was, but it’s an excellent film, well crafted and performed and for anyone looking for an original take on a familiar rise and fall crime narrative, you’ll find it here.
Directed By: Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego
Starring: Carmiña Martínez, Natalia Reyes, José Acosta, Jhon Narváez, Jose Vicente Cotes, Juan Bautista and Greider Meza