Birds of Passage

Mar 21, 2019

Beautiful and tragic drug story set amongst indigenous Colombians.

Birds of Passage

Grade: A-

Directors: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra (Embrace of the Serpent)

Screenplay: Maria Camilla Arias (Candelaria), et al.

Cast: Carmina Martinez, Jose Acosta

Runtime: 2 hr 5 min

By: John DeSando

Birds of Paradise takes a familiar subject, the Colombian drug scene in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, and makes it into a watchable Godfather saga. Family is the center of the action leading to, you guessed it, warring drug kingdoms. The cinematography is lush, the actors authentic, and the themes eternal.

The stuff that makes the world happy, weed, comes down from the mountains to the small airplanes, which fly north to the US, a pleased customer bringing prosperity to otherwise impoverished Colombians. Marriage promises families forever linked until capitalism, not communism, rends even the strongest familial ties.

The five “cantos” embrace happiness and misery in equal measure: wild grass, the graves, prosperity, the war, and limbo.  The coming out party of gorgeous Zaida (Natalia Reyes) presages a bright future for her Wayuu tribe with a blazing-red silk dress and stunning face paint. However, the imposing mother Ursula (Carmina Martinez) demands an expensive dowry that suitor Rapayet (Jose Acosta) might have difficulty offering. This matriarch gives the lie to any theory that Latino culture is purely patriarchal.

Ambition leads to drug running, family feuding, and temporary wealth. The riches are embodied in the colorful fabrics that are flamboyant and garish at the same time. The dark downfalls could be written about anywhere.

Birds of Passage is an engaging and beautiful gloss on the effects of tribalism and the corruptions of wealth and power, exacerbated by the obsession with the belief in family to die for at all costs. It is a glowing and menacing reprise of the Colombian Corleone days set amongst the indigenous Wayuu, for whom only a few moments are in paradise.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at