“Ask yourself, Where does your loyalty lie?”Review by Lewis Goodall
Birds of passage is a Columbian film, directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, the same visionaries that brought us ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ (which I also reviewed and you can check out here, Just click that little hyperlink just there, go on, it won’t bite). This film is based on a true story that takes place during the 1960’s to the early 1980’s and follows the Wayuu family clan and their rise and fall within the early days of the illegal Columbian drug trade. The main cartel member we follow is Papayet (José Acosta), the film starts with him looking to marry into the Wayuu clan via their daughter Zaida (Natalia Reyes) who has recently bloomed into a woman by spending a year in confinement. Unsure at first, the Wayuu’s ask for a Dowry from Papayet to prove to them that his family name is still strong. While collecting the Dowry he discovers travelling gringos (more commonly known as Americans) are looking for marijuana. Looking to capitalise on this, Papayet and his friend utilise the local weed grower to sell to the gringos. From there Papayet starts his drug empire which comes along with wealth but also brings greed and war.
Exploring cultures certainly seems to be these directors angle with their films and they do an amazing job of displaying this. I had the same feeling with ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ where I just felt so connected to the culture they are showing that it weirdly feels more like a documentary than a film. It feels so real and connected to the subject and I don’t know how they manage to make it so natural. Within minutes I was transported to Columbia, and fully engrossed within the Wayuu family. The story starts with Zaida, coming back into the community after a full year in confinement….. a year….. in basically what appears to be a shed. She then comes out and they celebrate her completing this feat by dancing and eating goats. Like I mentioned, the directors do an amazing job of displaying cultures and traditions in their films that I felt I was in the circle dancing along to the Mexican music.
As Papayet takes a liking to Zaida, he promises to marry her but must bring a dowry to the Wayuu’s to restore his family name and make him worthy of bringing into the family. He grows his wealth through creating the illegal drug trade that we know and love today. The film is split into 5 parts: Wild Grass, The Graves, Prosperity, The War and Limbo. Each chapter of the story spans itself across the 10+ year period that the film is set. Time jumps quite a bit in this film which I understand, it’s pretty hard to fit 10 years in a 125 minute film but a couple of times the time jumped halfway through a chapter which I found to be a fair bit jarring. When their baby was suddenly a child out of nowhere i found it hard to keep track of who was who (that’s not me being racist, believe me) but once that initial confusion is out of the way it works really well.
Growing over the 10 years with these characters with the directors way of showing culture is a great experience with seeing the rise of the Wayuu family. The conflict arises when people outside of the Wayuu family cause friction within the drug trade business. Papayets friend Moisés (Jhon Narváez) starts out the drug trade alongside Papayet, but greed gets to his head where clouded decisions are made which is the catalyst for the events that transpire throughout the next 10 year. Watching all the events play out to eventually build to the inevitable war between families at the end was a pleasure to watch, accompanied with the stunning visuals, wonderful acting and very nice music.
Something I noticed with this film is that Colombians seem to only lose teeth on their right side. There were couple of characters that only had their left nashers which makes me think, do they only eat with one side of their mouth? I know they have their traditions like staying In a hut for a year and spitting on each other (that happened in the film as well), I guess eating on one side like a horse is also part of their culture.
Overall I have the same feeling as I had with ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ where i feel like I enjoyed it more after the film finished, taking the time to reflect on the film afterwards is more rewarding than watching it, and i’m not dissing the film itself cause that’s also great to watch . As I was watching it, I felt as though I didn’t really have a connection to some of the family members in the film but after reflecting and thinking back to it I really did fall in with the Wayuu family. This film has so much to explore and I would recommend it for anyone who wants to know what it’s like to be a apart of a small family in Columbia that illegally sell drugs and spits all over each other.