The clash between old-world tradition and new-world corruption is at the centre of powerful, gorgeously-rendered tribal-gangster saga Birds Of Passage. Colombian filmmakers Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s striking follow-up to Embrace Of The Serpent also focuses on indigenous people, this time on a Wayuu family living an insular existence until the advent of the Colombian drugs trade of the 1970s. Rapayet (Jose Acosta) is an enterprising young Wayuu man and a burgeoning drug dealer who marries into a highly respected family, under the watchful eye of superstitious matriarch Ursula (Carmina Martinez).
Ursula is a powerhouse and a tribal ‘word messenger’ – a reader of dreams, omens, and symbols, and therefore a socially prominent member of the community. But as her son-in-law becomes increasingly successful in the drugs trade, Ursula begins to ignore the bad omens in order to reap the power and material benefits afforded to her. Violence escalates and the family strays further from the path of traditional, cloistered Wayuu culture — with an attached sense of doom hanging heavy over them.
Structured via five distinct sections, Guerra and Gallego’s world is one of striking, vivid contrasts. Its imagery includes a stark modernist home in the arid, empty plains of the desert; machine-guns and diamonds vying for space amid tribal talismans and ritual costume. While the pressures of external forces come down on Rapayet and his family, their greatest loss is the lifestyle of their forefathers – one which demanded a separation from those very forces. Riches and ambition come at a steep price in Birds Of Passage, and the filmmakers use a singular story to express the sorrow of an indigenous culture torn asunder by the worst kinds of modernity.