Birds of Passage film still shot of José Acosta & Natalia Reyes dancing

Birds of Passage

Birds of Passage is a visually ravishing epic drama charting the early drug trade of the 70s in Columbia, and the destruction it wreaks on two clans of indigenous peoples that become involved.

4 out of 5 stars

Review: (rolanstein)
In the memorable and visually gorgeous intro to Birds of Passage, Zaida (Natalia Reyes), a young woman from the Wayuu tribe (indigenous to Guajira, North Columbia), comes out of a year’s confinement to mark her coming of age with a traditional dance before her village. She is joined by a handsome, intense suitor, Rapayet (José Acosta), who leans close and declares her his woman. The family matriarch, Ursula (Carmiña Martínez) – a most formidable prospective mother-in-law – has other ideas. Distrustful of Rapayet’s connections outside the village, she demands a dowry of dozens of head of various livestock, which is far beyond his means, and imposes a short time limit within which he must present it.

Rapayet achieves the impossible by enlisting the assistance of some cohorts, sourcing a sizeable stash of marijuana on credit, and selling it to American dealers.

It’s the early 70s and demand for the drug is surging in the States. Now with his new wife to support, Rapayet takes advantage of his American contacts and seizes the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a booming business – Columbia is not yet on the illicit drug trade map.

Before long, he brings prosperity to the clan, and another that grows the dope. A wary Ursula, who acts as guardian and enforcer of the tribe’s traditions, frequently intervenes in the business to ensure that the codes of honour by which they live are upheld. She is afraid that no good will come of the business and the interaction with outsiders that is intrinsic to it. And right she is.

With wealth and power come greed and corruption of moral values, resulting in a clan war that can have only one winner.

Birds of Passage draws on the gangster and western genres, but the territory it occupies is all its own. The spectacular (and brilliantly shot) backdrop of contrasting northern Columbian landscapes, and the primary focus on the Wayuu culture and the erosion of their traditions and values as the drug trade progresses, are far removed from Hollywood. It is evident that directors Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra (Embrace of the Serpent) have much invested in charting the tragic trajectory of the indigenous people – and perhaps Columbia as a whole – as the drug trade and dark side of capitalism take hold.

While there is an epic feel to the work in its expansive landscapes and the slow playing out of the drama over a narrative duration of 12 years, it could have benefited from some judicious editing back. That said, there are ample compensations for viewers prepared to exercise a little patience. I haven’t seen a film quite like it. Well worth checking out.

Movie Website:

Birds of Passage (original title Pájaros de verano) features: Carmiña Martínez, José Acosta, Natalia Reyes, José Vicente, Jhon Narváez
Director: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra
Writers: Maria Camila Arias, Jacques Toulemonde Vidal (screenplay); Cristina Gallegoor, Ciro Guerra (original idea)

Runtime: 125 min

Birds of Passage screening dates (2018-19 Lotterywest Perth Film Festival):
Somerville: 4-10 March, 2019, 7.30pm
Joondalup Pines: 12-17 March, 2019, 7.30pm

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