Birds Of Passage (15)

Feb 12, 2020
Anson Paul

A visually stunning portrayal of the Colombian drug trade and its effect on an indigenous people. When greed and honour collide, a fratricidal war puts their lives, culture and traditions at stake. An epic drama spanning twenty years and featuring breathtaking scenery and costumes.



Birds of Passage is the second major film creation of Colombian husband and wife team director Ciro Guerra, and producer Christina Gallego…it is an epic.
Their first offering “Embrace of the Serpent “was about the clash of culture between white Europeans and Amazonian Indians. This film takes a similarly ethnographic approach and concerns an indigenous Indian tribe of Northern Colombia, the Wayuu and their involvement in the inception of the great Narco wars of the later half of the 20th century…wars that ran for decades and almost destroyed the country. However, unlike the American Netflix’ production “Narcos”, this is the story as told by the perceived bad guys…the suppliers…this is an authentic Colombian experience.

The style of the film is a cross between Coppola’s “Godfather “and Gabriel Garcia Marques’ “Hundred Years of Solitude “and as with” Embrace of the Serpent” cinematographer David Gallego, Christina Gallego’s brother, makes magnificent play of the landscape and people, conjuring up an atmosphere of threatening violence and magical spirituality in equal measure.

Although based on a true story and made very much in cooperation with the Wayuu themselves, the dramatic iconography of the film is two tiered. The first incorporates a classical western Homeric narrator, in this case a lone goat herder who introduces and concludes the action, the story itself playing out like some Oresteian fratricidal tragedy. This stylistic device lends grand stature and universality to the film’s protagonists.

The second tier is the bird gods and spirit world of the Wayuu encompassed by the fragile, dreamtime landscape they inhabit and the vulnerable traditions they observe – dowry dances, reburying ancestral bones, purification ceremonies… because “dreams prove the existence of the soul”.

The film is divided into five cantos, Wild Grass, The Graves, Prosperity, The War and Limbo and centres initially on the fortunes of one enterprising adventurer Rapayet, who wishes to win the hand of the beautiful Zaida but has to pay a substantial dowry to her mother Ursula, the tribes’ most important elder.
How Rapayet gains that dowry to win Zaida and how his actions impact on all around him form the film’s epic narrative (Think Paris abducting Helen and its ramifications).

The clashes that drive the screenplay are the struggle between ancient tradition, and invasive Western greed. As with “Embrace of The Serpent” white men’s ways bring problems…”Rubber means death”; here it is drugs. When one of the Wayuu proclaims, “Weed is the worlds’ happiness” you know tragedy is at hand. The Wayuu are an unconquered Indian tribe but they must ride the corrosive and brutal materialism of the drugs trade. Alijuh is the word the Wayuu use for people of European origin…it means destroyer.
Things of special note: Zaida’s mesmerizing, unforgettable dowry dance, great shirts and printed dresses, a convincing ethnic soundtrack and fabulous cinematography.

1 Oresteia, trilogy of tragic dramas by the ancient Greek dramatist Aeschylus, first performed in 458 bce. It is his last work and the only complete trilogy of Greek dramas that has survived.
Philip Bret-Day


            Weighted vote 79.65%