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  Birds of Passage In New Money
Year: 2018
Director: Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra
Stars: Carmiña Martínez, José Acosta, Natalia Reyes, Jhon Narváez, Greider Meza, José Vicente, Juan Bautista Martínez, Miguel Viera, Sergio Coen, Aslenis Márquez, José Naider, Yanker Díaz, Victor Montero, Joaquín Ramón, Jorge Lascarro, Germán Epieyu
Genre: Drama, Thriller, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Colombia in 1968, and among the indigenous tribes there is a new opportunity as the influence of North America begins to make itself apparent. They have lived for hundreds of years with the same traditions of dance and costume, of rituals that have been practiced so often they have no specific memory of where they originated, and at one such occasion Rapayet (José Acosta) attends, he takes a liking to the centre of attention, Zaida (Natalia Reyes) who is performing a coming of age ceremony. He tells her he means to marry her, but she and her family are sceptical - he just does not have the money to support her. But that is about to change, and change drastically for him...

If Colombia was mentioned or featured in a film, historically you would expect it to be connected to its notorious drugs trade: picture Chuck Norris leading an assault on some Pablo Escobar stand-in's compound, and you would have some idea of the nation's impact on the global consciousness. But for director Ciro Guerra, as an actual Colombian, there was far more to the story of his homeland than that, so after his arthouse hit Embrace of the Serpent he teamed up with his soon to be ex-wife and co-director Cristina Gallego to create a more accurate perspective on the crime blighting the place, only from the local's side of things rather than some action flick painting their countrymen as villains.

After all, it takes two to tango, and the marijuana and cocaine industry would have never gotten off the ground had their not been a huge appetite for the narcotics in the rest of the world, the thoughtless drug users paying the Colombians (and not only them, to be fair) for the privilege of allowing their locality to descend into violence and misery all for the sake of making the consumers' parties go with a swing. You might have expected, even welcomed, a more scathing view of the foreigners who ruined the South Americans, but Birds of Passage was not really about that, it turned its gaze inwards and pointed the fingers at those who wanted to make a quick buck and led to disaster.

Therefore, the only Americans we see are the occasional hippies near the beginning who are there for the Peace Corps to prevent Communism taking hold in the region, and after asking, are accommodated by Rapayet and his growing band of cohorts until they have dragged in entire tribes to the illegal business, at eventual and terrible personal cost. It doesn't matter at the start, they are making a lot of profit, money like they have never seen, and the huts they have been living in for all these centuries are replaced by custom built villas - still in the forests and plains they have always existed in, but now corrupted by their greed. There are warning voices from certain characters (like the superstitious ones who see portents of doom everywhere) but they are not heeded, despite them having a very good point.

This was, when you got down to it, a very familiar gangster yarn of the sort we had seen many times before, be that in film or television - imagine a Colombian version of The Godfather and you would not be too far off the mark - so it was ironic the filmmakers were so reliant on the Hollywood model to tell their tale when, let's face it, Hollywood would have been one of the drug lords' biggest customers. Maybe it was reciprocation. But the sheer strangeness of playing that out among indigenous peoples, seeing them act like Al Pacino but remaining utterly identifiable as Colombian characters, was a strong enough reason to keep watching, no matter how hackneyed it was feeling. It could be that there are only so many ways you can tell a gangster thriller, particularly one based in fact, when they all pretty much trace the same rise and fall of multiple participants, and you may not quite get over the familiarity, but it was different enough to justify itself as a crime drama and lament for lost traditions, bulldozed by avarice. Music by Leonardo Heiblum.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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