Birds of Passage – Review

South American stories of drugs and crime have become a staple of modern cinema and television. Often focussing on the crime lords and families that have fed the worlds hunger for illicit drugs. However, with Birds of Passage Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego bring us an intimate family saga. Reflecting the complex interface between indigenous culture and western desire in 70s and 80s Columbia. Split into five acts (or songs) Birds of Passage takes us on a sweeping family journey. Exploring both the traditions of the past, and the devastating impact of an emerging drugs trade.

Our Journey begins in the wind swept Northern Columbian villages of the Wayúu people with a coming of age ceremony for Zaida (Natalia Reyes). With dance, celebration and music marking her transition to adulthood. While also providing opportunities for potential suiters to stake their desire.

Enter Rapayet (José Acosta) who sits on the fringes of the village. His life already verging on the more more modern business opportunities of a country in transition and change. However, despite village misgivings, his desire for Zaida is strong. And as the nephew of Peregrino the ‘Word Messenger’ (José Vicente Cotes). He is given the opportunity to provide a substantial dowry in taking her hand in marriage. Much to the distrust or her mother and village Matriarch Ursula (Carmiña Martínez).

However unknown to the village, Raphayet and his close friend Moises (Jhon Narváez) have seized on an opportunity to distribute marijuana to travelling Americans. A deal involving his cousin Aníbal (Juan Martínez). With Raphayet negotiating a partnership that will ultimately lead to the division of family, villages and friendships.

Birds of Passage never looses the focus of family, culture and Wayúu traditions. Despite encapsulating a much larger journey, where money, wealth and power slowly strip back individuals and communities. Creating a film in which stereotypes of Columbian drug trafficking never come to the fore. Ultimately focussing on the social and personal impact of a drugs trade born from cultures of differing values and ideas. And the eventual interface of two opposing worlds in creating a destruction of culture and community.

Character studies are beautifully rendered throughout. As we see a culture built on tradition, replaced by cars, guns and financial business. Affecting each of the key characters and communities in different ways. While stripping them all of cultural norms and safety of their indigenous lives. With no individual fully understanding the eventual loss and destruction of the drugs trade, until it is too late. The birds, celebrated by Wayúu culture also acting as omens of the change and destruction that is to come.

The interface between tradition and invading Western ideals is further enhanced by the films beautiful cinematography. Intertwining the rich cultural celebrations and traditions of a proud people, against stark and modern monoliths of wealth and power. The films score also reflecting these two opposing worlds and the clash they inevitably bring.

Birds of Passage is a journey into the heart and sole of communities that never fully understood the business invading their lives. Including the cultural impact of tribal social structures in a global trade uninterested in anything except money. This is a film that never seeks to blame opposing cultural forces for the eventual creation of a world wide drugs trade that has led to so much destruction. But it does ask you to reflect on the imposition of wealth and money on cultures built on community and tradition in way no other film of the genre has managed.