Greed and fam­ily col­lide in haunt­ing jour­ney to heart of drug trade

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

IT’S an old story of greed, power and cor­rup­tion, told from an un­fa­mil­iar per­spec­tive.

Birds Of Pas­sage charts the rise and fall of an in­dige­nous Wayuu fam­ily dur­ing the early days of the Colom­bian drug trade.

In the open­ing se­quence — shot with an ethno­g­ra­pher’s eye — a beau­ti­ful young woman named Zaida (Ter­mi­na­tor: Dark Fate’s Natalia Reyes) emerges from her 12-month con­fine­ment to per­form an ex­tra­or­di­nary courtship dance, in which she swoops like a bird, with her hand­some suitor.

Ur­sula (Carmina Martinez), the clan’s steely ma­tri­arch, ap­proves the match so long as Ra­payet (Jose Acosta) can come up with the re­quired dowry of sheep, cat­tle and jew­ellery.

It’s all the in­cen­tive he needs.

A chance en­counter with a bunch of young hip­pies who are vol­un­teer­ing for the US Peace Corps opens up a new rev­enue stream for the en­tre­pre­neur­ial or­phan.

Go­ing into busi­ness with his un­cle, Pere­grino (Jose Vi­cente Cote), Ra­payet is soon haul­ing sacks of mar­i­juana down from the moun­tains on don­key back, which he swaps for bags full of US dol­lars. But as the clan’s wealth grows, tra­di­tional value sys­tems break down and old loy­al­ties are tested.

Al­ways a bit of a loose can­non, Ra­payet’s friend and busi­ness part­ner Moises (Jhon Nar­vaez) starts to spi­ral out of con­trol. And Zaida’s much-younger brother, Leonidas (Grei­der Meza), be­comes an in­creas­ingly de­struc­tive pres­ence within their com­mu­nity. The rot has set in. Book­ended by a haunt­ing tra­di­tional folk song, Birds Of Pas­sage un­folds in five “can­tos”, or verses: Wild Grass, The Graves, Pros­per­ity, The War and Limbo.

What marks the clas­sic moral­ity tale apart from oth­ers of its kind is the speci­ficity of the back­drop and the ob­ser­va­tional de­tail about the cul­ture in which it is set.

While there is noth­ing sen­ti­men­tal about the way in which the Wayuu are de­picted, di­rec­tors Cristina Gal­lego and Ciro Guerra (Em­brace Of The Ser­pent) weave dream im­agery and an­i­mal totems seam­lessly into the nar­ra­tive — birds, in par­tic­u­lar, have a strong pres­ence. The char­ac­ters also re­sist con­ven­tional stereo­types.

While Ra­payet looks every bit the Colom­bian drug lord, he’s a prin­ci­pled man shaped by cir­cum­stance and op­por­tu­nity. Ur­sula has a nat­u­ral au­thor­ity that’s very pow­er­ful.

Set against the stark desert back­drop, the sil­hou­ette of their pul­verised con­crete man­sion stays etched on the retina long after the cred­its have rolled.

NOW SHOW­ING

A scene from Birds Of Pas­sage.

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