Birds of Passage (2019)

An artistically-magisterial juxtaposition of cultural traditions through the lens of Guajira, Colombia’s Wayuu to vile modernities like drug cartels in the weed-hazy ’70’s, Círo & Guerra’s spaghetti-western-reimagined is cinematic brilliance. 9.6/10.

Plot Synopsis: As the American youth embraces hippie culture in the 1970’s, marijuana craze hits Colombía, quickly turning farmers into seasoned businessmen. In the Guajira desert, an indigenous Qayuu family takes a leading role in this new venture and comes to enjoy the perks of both wealth and power until unintended side products of greed and betrayal erupt into an all-out war against tradition.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Review

“I Came Across This Girl In The Desert..”

Embrace Of The Serpent Auteurs Are Back With Another Masterwork Of Exotic Brilliance

Photo Courtesy Of: Ciudad Lunar Producciones

Guajira, Colombia: 1970’s. “I came across this girl in the desert, and learned the story of a wild grass that came dressed as a savior – but destroyed like locusts.” Power couple and Embrace Of The Serpent-auteurs Círo Guerra and Cristina Gallego are back with a new (cautionary) thriller on the temptations of modern civilization that harrowingly echoes through the halls of American history. The blood of Native Americans soaked this land centuries ago, when a group of European colonizers sparked a Genocide on the indigenous people that’s anything but the idealistic ‘land of the free; this land is your land, this land is my land’ anthem we proudly recite before any noteworthy U.S. event today. While we still may be waiting for that cinematic classic that masterfully portrays the American Indians’ backstory and experience here in the U.S., we can now take a journey into the experience of a different group of indigenous people and their experience of modern civilizational effects on a society previously isolated from them: the Wayuu clan of Guajira, Colombía. An artistically magisterial juxtaposition of cultural traditions through the lens of Guajira, Colombia’s Wayuu to vile modernities like drug cartels in the weed-hazy 1970’s, Guerra/Gallego’s spaghetti western/foreign film is cinematic brilliance and one of the best films of 2019.

The Range of Colombían Landscapes & Cultural Vibrancy Of An Indigenous Tribe

Photo Courtesy Of: Ciudad Lunar Producciones

The sensory exoskeleton Birds of Passage offers is breathtaking and loaded with ethnic awe of a dramatically, if not completely, unrepresented group of people in popular and historical culture. The Wayuu have chosen to keep culture and traditions, not Apple Watches and Facebook, at the center of their society away from the spotlight and computer screens, and the journey into such a vastly different way of ancestral life is enthralling and a spiritual quest Guerra & Gallego take us on for two glorious hours. Everything from the beautiful authentic native costume design to traditional dance and language (thankfully choosing to bleed proud heritage and not conform to translation beyond subtitles for non-Colombíans watching) to lush green jungles wherein secluded homes harvest their products in a striking canvas of agricultural vibrance and harsh-sunned deserts feeling straight out the annals of Leone flicks of yesteryears makes for a rich bird’s eye view into a previously-unknown civilization. Birds of Passage deserves intense praise for its boldness and representational choices so beautifully painting a portrait of this group of people and their everyday world, only for it to be shaken up by the events of its Biblical screenplay.

A Vastly Different Angle For A Crime Drama

Photo Courtesy Of: Ciudad Lunar Producciones

The simplicity of plotting, while still packed with multi-interpretive symbolism (from the Biblical locust plague to stork night-walking to death visions) you can or can choose not to decipher, makes for a brisk film that can attract audiences of all backgrounds and film experience levels. We’re given a clear-cut, relatable portrait of a man trying to prove his self-worth and love for his wife-to-be by securing the expensive dowry resources her family demands as part of their traditional marriage customs indicative of many world cultures (India included, as I’ve seen personally in my own family). In his desperation and poverty-stricken doubt, he turns to a get-rich-quick scheme and business he doesn’t fully understand – one whose intoxicative aftereffects spawn dire consequences for both his family and people. Themes of family drama, drug cartel thrills, greed/materialism, and cultural appropriation/juxtapositions are juggled masterfully in this impressive script that basically traces the roots of the Colombian drug game and fratricidal war through a vastly different lens than has ever been done in a narcotic drama. Through the perspective of a native tribe previously uninitiated to anything like this, the events of the script hit harder as we see the effects of this clash between money, power, and tradition start to trickle down the region.

The Juxtaposition of Cultural Values To Modern Temptations & Reciprocal ‘Evolution’

Photo Courtesy Of: Ciudad Lunar Producciones

Birds of Passage painstakingly and artfully paints the destruction of the Wayuu people and their culture/traditions from the inside out in a way unlike anything ever before cinematically. A simple taste of the quick-wealth, violence, and power of the drug cartels/trafficking game interrupts a sibylline, undisturbed, family-oriented, peaceful existence – turning it into a greedy, materialistic, dishonorable mess wholly forgetting everything their ancestors cherished and built over generations. From Moisés shooting gringos dead simply for doing business with other venders (while sadistically laughing and questioning why they don’t just take out every buyer after the wire transfer to save money and product) to Leonidas’ flaunting his cash making a man eat dog crap for funds to go to law school and committing the unthinkable act on an innocent daughter to knowingly starting an all-out war in the region out of pure selfish pride, the deterioration of the respectful, innocent cultural picture we first saw untouched by these troubles is sadistically developed into the nightmarish tragedy of the film’s ending: a powerful sight to behold. The film serves as a dark reflection of the dangers of modern civilization and colonialism/gentrification/culutral-interruption, as well as a reality check and call to action for us to examine the seismic affects our actions can have on the world around us and that maybe our way of life in today’s day-and-age isn’t quite as totally-‘evolved’ as we’d like to think it is.

The Performances & Cinematography

Photo Courtesy Of: Ciudad Lunar Producciones

The performances aid this magical translation of such a crucial message for our modern times, especially Jhon Narváez’s Moisés bleeding charismatic flamboyance as its screen-stealing performance – supported perfectly by Jose Acosta, Natalia Reyes, and Carmiña Martínez’s work. The film’s cinematography is also of note, utilizing spherical lenses and calculated color palettes to paint this canvas of what feels like a spaghetti western meets gangster flick meets horror elements in the destruction of a previously vibrant culture. Cinematographer David Gallego dots the landscape with tons of natural light, authentic chromas indicative or foundational to the Wayuu’s belief system, and shots loaded with symbolic complexity addressing the culture’s relationship with and beliefs in the interconnectivity of conscience, death, and dreamscapes. The film even uses a 35mm instead of modern hi-definition camerawork to capture the ’70’s feel, and color pallettes mirror the screenplay by devolving and growing dimmer as the story progresses and the cultural majesty erodes away just as its chromatic scheme does too.

Flaws

Photo Courtesy Of: Ciudad Lunar Producciones

Flaws are few and far in between in this culturally-fueled masterpiece; the only gripe I can even think of is perhaps a better exit for Moisés farther along in the film since he is the most captivating and charismatic character by far. A final guns-blazing classic-Leone showdown (complete with whistle theme) between Moisés and his brother alongside the aligunas war to fully embrace that spaghetti-western motif it establishes across its storyline would’ve made for an even more spectacular ending, if we’re making criminal nitpicks on overall coup-de-maîtres.

Conclusion

A Masterpiece On The Temptations Of Modern Civilization & Biblical Complexity In Symbolism

One Of The Best Films Of 2019

Photo Courtesy Of: Ciudad Lunar Producciones

Overall, Círo Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s new (cautionary) thriller on the temptations of modern civilization is a masterpiece of as Biblical proportions as the symbolism it invokes. A blend of horror, spaghetti westerns, and gangster films that cleverly uses cinematographical tricks, symbolism, light, and color palettes to dot the landscape of an eroding culture in the face of modern civilizational intrusions, there is nothing quite like it in its genre. An artistically magisterial juxtaposition of cultural traditions through the lens of Guajira, Colombia’s Wayuu to vile modernities like drug cartels in the weed-hazy ’70’s, Guerra/Gallego’s spaghetti western/foreign film is cinematic brilliance and one of the best films of 2019. You’ve never seen a narcotics crime drama like this.

Official CLC Score: 9.6/10