Birds of Passage (2018) ****

August 8th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Ciro Guerra |Dir/Prod: Cristina Gallego | Drama | Colombia | Cast: | Carmina  Martínez, Jhon Narváez, José Acosta, José Vicente Cotes, Juan Martínez, Natalia Reyes | 110’

Embrace of the Serpent (2015) was the first Colombian feature to be nominated for an Oscar© and won Ciro Guerra the Art Cinema award at Directors’ Fortnight. The Bogota born director returns with his fourth and most ambitious film today PAJAROS DE VERANO that explores the origins of the Colombian drug trade through this epic yet spiritual  multi-layered story about an indigenous Wayuu family of farmers turned drug-traffickers become involved in the booming business of selling marijuana to the American youth in the 1970s. But from a tiny seed of discontent passion and honour collide, and a fratricidal war breaks out that will put their lives, culture and ancestral traditions at stake.

Working this time in colour with his DoP David Gallego, Guerra creates a fabulous sense of place in the arid windswept plains of Colombia’s Guajira desert, where a deep unsettling feeling continually pervades the heady atmosphere with Leonardo Heiblum’s ground-breaking ominous soundscape.

Embrace of the Serpent writer Jacques Vidal and co-scripter Maria Camila Arias structure the story around five songs: Wild Grass 1968, The Tombs 1971, Prosperity 1979, The War 1980 and Limbo following the age-old traditional rags to riches and then tragedy formula. That said, this is an inventive and refreshingly original film whose poetic nature is continually punctuated by episodes of brutal violence and down to earth characters echoing recent South American fare such as Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, and Lisandro Alonso’s Jauja, and anchoring Birds firmly in historical reality despite its lyrical and often dreamlike folkloric overtones.

In this strongly matriarchal set-up, themes of capitalism vie with those of spirituality showing how both can breed antagonism if left unchecked, and this is eventually what transpires when male machismo and greed topples this delicate human society with tragedy and loss the inevitable outcome. Occasionally marred by uneven pacing BIRDS OF PASSAGE is nevertheless a startling achievement marking out Ciro Guerra and his co-director Cristina Gallego as growing talents on the South American scene. MT

LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL | CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 8-19 MAY | DIRECTORS’ FORTNIGHT

 

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