Friday, 20 July 2018

Birds of Passage: NZIFF Review

Birds of Passage: NZIFF Review

Mining thematically similar edges to 2016's NZIFF entrant, Embrace of The Serpent, director Ciro Guerra's Birds of Passage takes a very familiar story and piles it through a prism of spiritualism, tribal ways and never-seen-before customs.

Much like Embrace of the Serpent's Amazonian world fell apart from the entrance of strangers, so too does the Colombian world of Zaida and her family. Freed after a year imprisoned in a hut, Zaida's courted by Rapayet, who's rebuffed by her family for having no wealth, and unable to afford her dowry.
Birds of Passage: NZIFF Review

However, Rapayet meets some members of the US Peace Corp who are in the region (the first hint of incursions ruining culture) and who are after marijuana. Partnering up with a volatile friend, Rapayet discovers the wealth in the marijuana, and sets in motion a chain of events which threatens both their indigenous ways and their own family values.

Guerra's Birds of Passage is a slow watch, a slow-burning intensely interesting take on an overly familiar story of how drugs - and drink - destroy and how feuds are started in the most insidious of ways.

What Guerra and fellow director Cristina Gallego have done is to take the very rote stories and give them a new spin. Thematically familiar to Embrace of the Serpent ie corrupting influence of outsiders, Birds of Passage takes a overly used drugs story trope and files it through a spiritual prism for maximum effect..

The matriarch (very similar to Animal Kingdom's Jackie Weaver) puts a lot of spiritual edge on what's going on early on, leading to Rapayet almost scoffing at her thoughts and superstitions.

But the further into the marijuana mire he goes, the more he comes to realise the portents she'd talked about were true and how the inevitability cannot be avoided.

Split into four chapters and four time zones, complete with a final song, and blessed with some truly deeply rooted performances, Birds of Passage takes you into the world of the Wayuu and their cultures with no prior knowledge needed of what they are. These are universal tales of corruption, of power struggles and of innocence caught in a cross fire that's unnecessary and yet unavoidable.

Packed with a cultural power, and blessed with a tragedy that's all too familiar, Birds of Passage becomes a film that elevates itself as it goes on - it may be slow at times, and could potentially have lost some of its 2 hour run time, but the wonder of what transpires is in line with Guerra's consistent themes of colonialism corrupting indigenous people, of how the white man has effectively ruined lives in the most insidious of ways without even trying and of how families fracture when the most human of sins rear their ugly heads.

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