Birds of Passage (Pajaros de Verano)
The Directors’ Fortnight, a sidebar competition of the Cannes Film Festival, celebrated its 50th anniversary tonight and selected Birds of Passage as its opening feature. The Colombian drama focuses on the story of an indigenous Wayuu clan and their involvement in the burgeoning drug trade of the 1970s and 80s. Family, tradition, honour and revenge are at the core of this story but despite this thematically rich world and the epic-like plot structure, Birds of Passage doesn’t quite land.
The film is literally divided into five chapters whose titles indicate the rising action, climax and denouement of the film. We begin with a shepherd singing the parable of the tale we’re about to see and then are immediately presented with the conflict: Raphayet (José Acosta) wants to marry the daughter of a prominent family in the village but cannot afford the dowry. He goes into business with his alijuna friend Moisés (Jhon Narváez) selling marijuana to Americans and for a brief moment things seem to be looking up: he’s able to afford the dowry to marry his dream girl and they start a family together. But drug money never comes without a risk and as their business deals expand, Moisés become increasingly cocky and ultimately moves the first pawn in the inevitable destruction of the business and subsequently the entire family.
Unlike other films of its ilk, Birds of Passage shies away from revelling in gratuitous violence and glorifying the greedy. There’s something delicate about how co-directors Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego chose to depict the unravelling of events which makes it clear that they have a great deal of respect from their subjects. Paying homage to a story that has largely been erased from history, they manage to simultaneously illustrate the devastating demise of a family while also showcasing the beauty and richness of the Wayuu culture within the structure of a compelling storyline.
The problem lies in a lack of development of the characters. With the exception of the matriarch of the family (Carmiña Martínez), whose role in upholding tradition ends up being a catch-22, it’s difficult to connect with any of the other individuals on a sympathetic, identifiable level. Considering the basis on true events, perhaps if more attention would have been paid to establishing specific characters with which we had more personal interactions with, rather than focusing so heavily on the themes and the history, there would have been more of a spark.
Birds of Passage (Pajaros de Verano) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.