Friday 23 August 2019

Film of the week: Birds of Passage

5 stars

Birds of Passage
Birds of Passage

Hilary A White

The drug cartel saga has been told and retold through a variety of formats, from adrenalised gut-punchers that trade in the badlands brutality of its players, to more finger-clicking offerings that poke fun at the futile war on drugs.

Nothing has ever been done remotely like Birds of Passage, however, which is one of a few reasons why it is a remarkable release.

Colombian filmmaking couple Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra (Embrace of the Serpent) emptied themselves wholesale to complete this longheld passion project to the point that they ended up getting divorced during production. If it's any consolation, their upheaval will not have been in vain.

The five-chapter saga concerns the Wayuu ethnic community in northern Colombia, who in the 1960s found their entire way of life changed by outside demand for marijuana and cocaine.

Raphayet (Jose Acosta) must cough up a sizeable bride price in order to have the hand of Zaida (Natalia Reyes). Having been approached by US peace corps volunteers, he seizes an opportunity to buy grass from a prosperous Wayuu kinsman. With this newly established supply line comes increasing prosperity for his tribe (and a change in role for Carmina Martinez's village matriarch) but an inevitable escalation in violence and destruction.

A woozy tempo descends over the film as the rigid customs and beliefs of the Wayuu begin to seep into this new capitalist territory in which the characters find themselves. As Faustian ripples spread outward from Raphayet into the community, the message is that far more is being lost than just his own moral compass.

Made with the full participation of the Wayuu community and featuring only a handful of trained actors, Birds of Passage feels tangibly authentic and true to its protagonists and setting. Wedding this to a sensual visual and audio flourish and a feeling of an entire world in flux, the brew becomes a very heady one indeed.

Cert: Club. Selected cinemas

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