Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Birds of Passage – watching the emergence of Colombian drug trade as it wrecks the lives of a tribe who become involved in its deadly supply (QFT from Friday 31 May)

Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s new film Birds of Passage looks at the emergence of the Colombian drugs trade, through the eyes of an enterprising, young man Rapayet (José Acosta) from the Wayúu tribe who becomes involved in the supply of Marijuana to American charity workers somewhat, but not entirely, innocently as he tries to generate enough cash to pay for the bloated dowry to marry Zaida (Natalia Reyes).

Her mother Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez) is the matriarchal power of a family, controlling everything except her young wayward son Leonídas (Greider Meza) who inherits the position of head of the family but is spoilt by the prosperity that flows from the drug-fuelled hamster wheel that cannot be escaped. While the end-users and dealers in other countries are absent from the story, their supply is not portrayed as victimless, with brutal rivalries and distrust of alijunas (outsiders) soaking the dusty earth with spilt blood.

Split into five chapters and spanning 20 years from the 1960s into the 1980s, Birds of Passage steers clear of action-led thriller territory, yet in painting the human cost of the high-pressure unstable world of drug lords, it fails to develop some of the central characters.

Reyes depicts Zaida as shy in the opening scenes which establish Rapayet’s intentions as a suitor with a dance sequence with beautiful billowing visuals that the film never quite recreates again (though the destruction of a modernist house built in the dessert is pretty startling). Zaida shows some signs of developing aspects of her mother’s strength, but these are snuffed out and any three-dimensional notions are collapsed into a flat character that is sadly relegated to the margins of scenes.

Rapayet works across traditional boundaries, happy to collaborate with outsiders. There’s little emotion in Acosta’s portrayal of the independent-minded, strong-willed figure whose moral code doesn’t include the superstition, interpretation of dreams and ominous signs given by the natural world that adorn his mother-in-law’s duplicitous and increasing reckless leadership style.

The consequences deepen and dead bodies pile up as the tribal practice of gifting animals soon morphs into giving weapons as stakes are raised and communities become drenched in the danger that comes with the drug world. A memorable film, with high production values throughout its 125 minutes, offering a glimpse into a usually silent and troubled world that lost its innocence a long time ago.

Birds of Passage is being screened in the Queen’s Film Theatre from Friday 31 May.

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