Greed and family collide in haunting journey to heart of drug trade
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.
A scene from Birds Of Passage.