Birds of Passage (2018)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5

Original title:  Pájaros de verano

////, 2018, , , , , Original idea by , Screenplay by , Cinematography by Produced by Cristina Gallego, Music by Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by

Embrace of the Serpent filmmaker Ciro Guerra teams up with director Cristina Gallego for another look at Colombian history that sees where worlds overlap before one is erased.  In the 1960s, a Waayu village lives much in a way that time hasn’t touched, and in this community Rapayet loves Zaida and is determined to marry her despite the enormous dowry her father demands in the hopes of ruining the match.

Rapayet knows that visiting American tourists want marijuana to smoke and asks his cousin to give him some product to sell so he can use the money for his planned nuptials.  Teaming up with his friend Moises, an “alijuna” (outsider, literally “one who damages”), the two pull off the task and win the man his lady love, doing so well that an American contact gets into business with them and turns them into wealthy drug dealers.

The decades pass and successful business brings in plenty of money while cultural traditions begin to slip away and threaten to erase the history of the Waayu people, while relations between Rapayet’s family and his cousin, who has become a business rival, only get worse and threaten to soak the land with blood.

This fascinating crime epic is an arthouse Narcos that never feels familiar, possessing as it does strong, resonant elements of spirituality and cultural detail that enrich the plot and make it feel personal and devastating.  It’s not often that movies about drug wars also feature a powerful influence of femininity, embodied by in an unforgettable performance as Rapayet’s uncompromising mother-in-law.

Spontaneous decisions by characters have repercussions that stretch well into the future as modernization brings destruction, while the characters who react to change by clinging harder to tradition are treated with sympathy while being punished for their rigidity.  Complex, captivating and stunning to look at, this is a richly rewarding film.

Toronto International Film Festival:  2018

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