Coming out of Columbia, Birds Of Passage, perhaps unsurprisingly, traces the origins of the Columbian drug trade via the story of an indigenous Wayuu family.
The film comes in at a tad over two hours and it feels like it. Told in parts, which are introduced in “Songs” rather than “Chapters”, it is particularly heavy going.
In part this is made up for by the beautiful cinematography which, far from being set in lushes mountains as you may expect, is largely based in an arid, desert-esq landscape as the Wayuu live in little more than huts to start with.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that the film is a full-on drama and it takes its time over everything it does and every little detail. In some parts this is great, but in others it feels unnecessary.
Our focus is a particular family of the Wayuu tribe and, as we join proceedings, their daughter is just emerging from a year in confinement, that is; being stuck in a hut for a year, whilst she turns from a girl to a woman.
Now that she is a woman though, she has suitors which is decided based on a ritualistic dance that she must partake in. The first boy to attempt it falls, and this fails. The next man to take the challenge is Rapayet, Jose Acosta, and he succeeds.
However, this isn’t he end of proceedings as now he must produce a dowry, set by the elder of the family, although in truth it looks like the woman of the house is taking care of things, the fierce matriarch Ursula, Carmina Martinez (“Dirty Habits”, “La Captura”).
The dowry being set, at some ridiculously high bounty of numerous goats, cows, necklaces and what-not, X sets out to work out how he’s going to gather all this together based on his earnings from shifting coffee and Whisky about the place with his friend Moises, Jhon Narvaez (“Dejala Morir (TV)”).
At a local bar, whilst making a delivery, the pair come across some young-American peace core workers who are looking for a good time, that involves copious amounts of marijuana.
Using his family connections, he begins to sell to the Americans, and this quickly escalates into him exporting. The wealth increases, the stakes get higher, friendships are put to the test, as are traditions as the modern world and drug money encroach.
Perhaps inevitability given the subject matter, all of this eventually leads to all-out war as those growing and those distributing to the Americans face-off in a tit-for-tat gun-battle, each taking revenge for the others misdemeanour.
Birds Of Passage is a beautifully looking film, from the dry huts in the arid landscapes, to the gleaming white buildings that emerge as the wealth increases.
The performances are all good, from the joyous, good time boy Moises, to the dour and always serious Rapayet. Though it’s Carmina Martinez who steals the show, she must be one of the fiercest women ever committed to screen. A no-nonsense, loyal and family woman who won’t let anything come between her and her daughter and granddaughters.
Slow going and feels longer than it is, but it is still easy to see why Birds Of Passage has been shortlisted for the Foreign Oscar.
THE QUICK SELL
During the marijuana bonanza, a violent decade that saw the origins of drug trafficking in Colombia