Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Movie with Abe: Birds of Passage

Birds of Passage
Directed by Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra
Opening February 13, 2019

Many people live in multiple worlds at the same time. Professional enterprises may be in direct conflict with cultural traditions prevalent in a person’s upbringing, and that oppositional relationship can result in the cutting off of any connections to home life, whether from members of the community or by the individual themselves. When no such separation is created, pervasive elements of a financial endeavor that involves unfamiliar practices and behavior begin to seep into the fabric of the previously unexposed place, often leading to detrimental problems that threaten to rip a community apart.

In the 1960s in Colombia, Rapayet (José Acosta) becomes engaged to Zaida (Natalia Reyes), a member of a native Wayuu family of considerable prestige. In order to pay the dowry required, Rapayet begins a lucrative business supplying visiting Americans with marijuana. His friend and business partner Moisés (Jhon Narváez) frequently clashes with the Wayuu because of his different heritage and his lack of respect for their customs, leading to increased tension between Zaida’s family and Rapayet’s cousin Aníbal (Juan Bautista), his main supplier who values the upholding of tradition and dignity above all else.

This film looks at a very different side of the rise of Colombian drug trafficking, seemingly on the other side of the world from Pablo Escobar and the Cali cartel. Rapayet’s engagement is cemented by his successful completion of a ritual dance, and livestock are among the frequent gifts presented from Rapayet both as a sign of respect and as an apology for the actions of his associates. Word messengers are treated with particular authority in this society, which feels like an ancient relic positioned next to the truck that Rapayet drives and the gun he wears around his waist. This is an examination of how the distant preserved past meets the inevitably invading future, threatening to forever alter a community that has remained much closer to its origins than most.

Directors Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra previously collaborated on the Oscar-nominated “Embrace of the Serpent” several years ago. This film proceeds at a much more involving pace but lacks some of the cinematic quality that made that story haunting and difficult to forget. The frills-free presentation of the Wayuu people and Rapayet’s efforts to balance the two homes that pull him is perhaps its most effective trait, and there is power to be found in the simpler moments featuring Wayuu customs at their barest. This film, which is one of nine finalists on the shortlist for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, feels like a truly genuine portrait of a culture not often showcased in film.


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