Birds of Passage movie poster
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Birds of Passage
Birds of Passage movie poster

Birds of Passage Movie Review

Drugs are bad. Drugs do bad things. Drugs corrupt. Those are the simplistic messages of the not-so-simple Birds of Passage, an oft-mesmerizing depiction of the decay of innocence from the filmmakers behind the amazing Oscar nominee Embrace of the Serpent.

I went into Birds of Passage more than cold. Between the title and the beautiful movie poster, I decided the film was better suited for my mom (because she likes stories about indigenous tribes, which is what I thought Birds of Passage was about), so I enlisted her to watch and review the film as I sometimes do, opting not to bother to even read the plot synopsis. Upon recommendation from a friend, I made the ultimately wise decision to watch the movie myself, completely unaware it was about the rise of a Columbian drug kingpin and the disintegration of an indigenous tribe, the victims of greed, power and money.

My mom would have hated it.

Birds of Passage is a beautifully filmed and undeniably unique take on drug lords. The film’s opening scenes, set in a desert village that seem far removed from modern society, give no hint as to what is to come, more focused on establishing the colorful characters—they themselves seemingly uninterested in money or power at the time, other than to win the dowry of a young woman—and their way of life than setting up Passage’s central story. It’s the kind of movie that relishes in the domino effect of life, one that is intentionally and intently jarring in how its final moments juxtapose against its opening ones.

José Acosta, who plays the unassuming Rapayet, delivers a fine if… well, unassuming… performance in what is sort of the lead role, though you could argue Carmiña Martínez, as the family matriarch, is the film’s central “protagonist” (I put that in quotes, because no one in the movie is especially likable nor, oddly, even consequential). What’s interesting about Birds of Passage is that even the specific characters aren’t all that critical to the story—they are merely pawns in directors Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra’s depiction of the rise and fall of a family—even culture—as a whole.

The end product is a sobering, shocking, and saddening tale of absolute corruption, a violent yet understated display of complete destruction and misery among friends, family, and way of life. Unlike any other drug cartel movie that has come before it, Birds of Passage is a staggeringly effective vision brought to life.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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