‘Birds of Passage’: Drug thriller that hits home

A new side of drug lords are explored in the film. (Image credits: IndieWire)
Birds of Passage
Director: Ciro Guerra
Stars: José Acosta, Natalia Reyes, Carmiña Martinez, Jhon Narváez, Greider Meza, José Vicente
Screening: On general release in Australia soon
Score: ★★★★


With TV shows and movies such as Narcos and Loving Pablo popular in recent years, South American drug stories are a dime a dozen, but Birds of Passage does well to stand out from the crowd.

It follows the life of the Wayuu indigenous family, a small tribe from Northern Columbia, in the 1970s as they struggle to make ends meet while retaining peace and order.

Rapayet (José Acosta), a young farmer in the tribe, hopes to marry the daughter of the tribe leader.

Desperate to raise quick cash to pay for his marriage dowry, Rapayet decides to sell marijuana to a group of young Americans.

This disturbs the once peaceful and conservative tribe, as they are now forced to engage in the lucrative yet dangerous world of drugs. 

The film is split into five chapters, labelled as “songs”, with each chapter taking place within different aspects of the Wayuu people’s lives.

Although each chapter is different, constant homage is given to aspects of Columbian culture.

Birds of Passage makes several references to Colombian traditions and practices. Image: IndieWire

The film did well to break free from character stereotypes often seen in drug crime films.

They challenge the notion that men in drug thrillers must be ruthless and violent, while the female characters are expected to become more submissive and “lost” without their male counterparts.  

The Birds of Passage female lead, Sanablia (Carmiña Martínez), is portrayed as  having a  tough exterior with an even tougher interior.

She murders men that get in the way of her family’s safety and will do anything to protect her loved ones.

Rapayet and Alijuna, as the leading male drug lords in the film, are constantly conflicted by their personal feelings, which prevents them from performing the task at hand.

Rapayet is continually haunted by his violent past which stops him from confronting other drug lords when needed to, while Alijuna’s personal feelings for his lover hinders him from thinking rationally.  

A combination of extensive close ups and an exhilarating soundtrack invites the audience to feel sympathetic for Rapayet and Alijuna, in spite of their criminal actions.

In two hours, Birds of Passage managed to give us colour, emotion, light and humour, something that can often prove a challenge for the drug-crime genre.

Birds of Passage screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival and is currently showing at the New Zealand International Film Festival 2018. It will be on commercial release in Australia soon.