Birds of Passage Jose Acosta Natalia Reyes

Year: 2019
Director(s): Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra
Writer(s): Maria Camila Arias, Cristina Gallego, Jacques Toulemonde Vidal
Region of Origin: Columbia, Denmark, Mexico, Germany
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: n/a
Color, 125 mins

Synopsis: A man and his indigenous family get involved in a drug war that threatens their lives and their culture. (Source)

Mafia films aren’t anything new, but rarely have they been as devastating or humane as Birds of Passage. Painstakingly brought to life from directors Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra, this timeless epic tells a story about family, drugs and outsiders. Centering around the indigenous Wayuu culture, the film resets the genre with urgency and purpose. Using dreamlike atmosphere and potent symbolism, Gallego and Guerra blend mysticism and sobering reality, never losing focus of the humanity at the story’s center. With its incredible performances and understated direction, this is an absolute knockout of a film. It highlights a culture virtually never featured in film, and renders a cautionary tale that laces beauty with undeniable heartache.

Set between the 60s and 80s, the story begins with a courting ritual. In Columbia, a woman named Ursula (Carmina Martinez) preps her Wayuu daughter, Zaida (Natalia Reyes), to meet a suitor. She urges her daughter not to neglect the spirits guiding her dreams or the ways of her people. During the ceremony, Zaida catches the eye of a man named Rapayet (Jose Acosta). He wishes to marry Zaida, but must first deliver a seemingly substantial dowry to appease her demanding mother. To do so, Rapayet hatches a plan with his impulsive friend Moises (Jhon Narvaez). Together, the pair begin supplying marijuana to American Peace Corps hippies, but set off an uncontrollable chain of events. Rapayet soon finds himself torn between tradition, family and a thriving business built with outsiders. 

Unlike most films about drug trafficking, Gallego and Guerra focus on the secondhand effects of violence. This isn’t a film about glorified shoot-outs or tough guy posturing, but pensive moments of introspection and loss. By focusing on cultural traditions, Rapayet’s struggle to maintain control feels personal and inescapable. Through this, the story takes a look at legacy from the perspective of parents and children. Replete with a motif of surreal dreams and elegantly shot indigenous environments, the film creates a portrait of the modern world’s influence on a land of superstition and spirituality. Needless to say, by the time it’s over, we’ve been fully immersed into the characters’ culture clash. By then, it’s impossible not be moved by the tragedy that occurs. 

Birds of Passage review Carmina Martinez

The film’s meticulous casting gives the film it’s blinding realism. As Rapayet, Jose Acosta is the story’s biggest presence, embodying its central conflict with nuance. Acosta plays things with a stoicism that slowly shifts throughout. Carmina Martinez’s Ursula is a commanding figure who is felt even when she isn’t there. There’s true conviction in every scene that Martinez contributes to, giving the film its urgency. Rounding things out, Jhon Narvaez, Natalia Reyes, Grieder Meza and Jose Vicente render a family that never feels less than real. The chemistry is amazing between the ensemble, grounding everything with striking emotion.

Birds of Passage is a film that slowly sneaks up on you. From the cultural representation, to its unique perspective, it’s an important film that needs to be seen. Gallego and Guerra have created something that looks to the past in order to give context to the present, and the results are unforgettable.