Toxic Money

Narco-bucks crush a community in Birds Of Passage

Film Review | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Birds of Passage
Broadway Theatre

Opens Saturday 20
4 out of 5

For all their popularity, movies about the drug trade are awfully predictable: A go-getter without a moral compass rises among narcos.  Success comes with enemies, including former allies. The drug lord’s demise is often caused by a hot-headed protégée. There’s never a happy ending.

Birds of Passage doesn’t change the formula, but it adopts a different perspective that makes the topic feel fresh again.

Based on real events, Birds of Passage unfolds in the Guajira peninsula (the Colombian desert) over a couple of decades. A modest Waayu farmhand named Rapayet (José Acosta) hopes to marry the daughter of the town’s sorceress. To pay the dowry, Rapayet puts together a marijuana deal with the American Peace Corps . The operation is so successful that drugs become the new husband’s career.

But Rapayet still has to work out a few kinks to make the venture sustainable: the supplier doesn’t think highly of him, his best friend is trigger-happy and his mother-in-law sees him as an interloper, regardless of the money he brings to the table.

Birds of Passage follows director Ciro Guerra’s critical hit Embrace of the Serpent (Oscar nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2016). While Birds didn’t make it to the Kodak Theatre, it shows an increasingly confident filmmaker capable of seamlessly weaving folklore and tradition into a plot without disturbing the pace.

The movie is also a beauty to look at — evocative yet immediate.

Birds of Passages best moments are when it confronts the impact of drug money. Traditional structures and systems that let the Waayu survive for centuries are obliterated. The moment greed supersedes other values, the community descends into chaos.

The dig at capitalism isn’t subtle, but it does feel accurate.