Film Review | Birds of Passage

Storytelling is a human tradition that goes back to the days of cave dwellers. The earliest stories were transmitted by singers and the spoken word.

Birds of Passage, a tale of customs, traditions and rituals that are lost when the pursuit of money overtakes traditional life in Colombia, is told as a song cycle.

A singer of songs evokes memories and ghosts of tales that are fading from peoples' memories.

The Wayuu clan lives a subsistence existence in the barren lands of Guarija, North Colombia. They trade goats, cattle and coffee as a means to acquire money to support their families.

In the words of Ursula, the clan's matriarch and spiritual protector, family is everything. Her strength comes not from her command of the talisman that protects her family but from her determination and ability to do anything to preserve her people.

Strength, honour, respect and truth are values combined by "the Word". The word is not a divine proclamation, it is the words that express their traditions and rituals and keep them connected with the memories of people and events from their past.

The clans use Word messengers as intermediaries during negotiations.

Ursula's daughter, Zaida, marries an ambitious young man, Rapayet. A chance meeting with a group of Peace Corps workers leads Rapayet to swap coffee trading for marijuana.

An increased demand leads to large scale drug deals, and the beginnings of the Colombian drug trade. The families are caught in the acquisition of wealth that threatens their cultural bonds.

They lose their spiritual centre and spiral out of control in a war ignited by greed, a clash within the tight knit family the outside world.

UP IN SMOKE: Natalia Reyes as Zaida in Birds of Passage, where the beginnings of the Colombian drug trade disrupt a centuries-old culture.

UP IN SMOKE: Natalia Reyes as Zaida in Birds of Passage, where the beginnings of the Colombian drug trade disrupt a centuries-old culture.

The clan enters a new frontier. Once they cross over into the unknown territory of money and guns, their traditional ways will be decimated. Ursula's dilemma is clear. How does she accept the European alijuntas while maintaining her ancestral ways?

And that's where the magic of contemporary storytelling jumps in. Filmmakers Cia Guerrero and Cristina Gallego bring us a film full of dreams, memories and myths.

Birds of Passage is not a drug film. It is about family and culture.

Birds of Passage is not a drug film. It is about family and culture. And corruption fuelled by enormous wealth all for the benefit of family.

You can pull apart the components that make up Birds of Passage but the true genius of the film is how the directors have blended all these elements to produce a seamlessly unified film.

From its structure set in the tradition of song cycles to its depictions of cultural memories, Birds of Passage is outstanding cinema in every way.

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