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BIRDS OF PASSAGE gets 7.5/10 High in the sky

Directed by Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego
Starring José Acosta, Natalia Reyes, Carmiña Martínez


For fans of both slow-burn art house thrillers and real-life drug tales, Birds of Passage will be right up your alley. Taking a broad overview of the weed cultivation and distribution in the Wayuu community of Columbia, this film focuses on a number of key drug-lords and their families over the course of 12 years as they come into conflict regarding familial disputes and retributions that end up in a continuous downward spiral of increasing violence and murder.

It all starts when Rapayet (José Acosta) must raise money to marry the daughter of the clan leader, so he embarks on growing and dealing marijuana for exportation. The money starts coming through, Rapayet marries into the clan, they have a couple of children, and, along with all the partying, it seems this venture has really paid off – until blood is spilled on the Wayuu land, and retributions are demanded one after the other.

Unlike the spiritual journey taking place throughout Embrace of the Serpent (from one of the same directors, and also a previous Perth Festival Film), as well as its dual complementing storylines occurring in different timelines, Birds of Passage is conversely very straight-forward and linear in depicting these 12 years, and despite the poetic-sounding title that’s illustrated by the occasional bird appearances, there doesn’t seem to be much of a spiritual presence in this doomed world.

Birds of Passage is blunt and direct about its portrayal of things going wrong and getting progressively worse. It’s situated deeply within the society and their familial rituals of the Wayuu people, until the quest for fortune invites the world of the travelling gringos in (the initial customers of this Columbian weed), the slow nature of this film carefully depicting the vengeful and violent back-and-forths between the families/drug-lords, as they can’t help but sever all their ties.

Perhaps the rigidity of this film’s gang-war depiction lacks a needed oomph, something underlying all the on-screen carnage, without it having to incorporate a spiritual element as this very blunt film is going for a more nihilistic approach. Birds of Passage is eager in presenting a well told and non-glamourised account of this incompatibility between materialism, spirituality, and long-held community traditions.


Birds of Passage plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, March 4 to Sunday, March 10, 7:30pm, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, March 12 to Sunday, March 17, 7:30pm.

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