Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego's previous film, Embrace of the Serpent, has proved one of the biggest arthouse hits of recent years. Having broken out at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival, the film went on to represent
The film opens with in the late 60s with a 'coming out' ceremony for Zaida who is soon paired off with Rapayet. As well as chronicling the couple's burgeoning romance, the film follows Rapayet who comes into contact with American missionaries. This leads him into the drug trade, which reshapes the primitive community into a successful ring of drug runners. A familiar story soon unfolds within the unfamiliar setting.
Birds of Passage goes a great distance on the back of its fascinating setting. The culture explored feels suitably fresh and it manages to mask the rather predictable narrative. You could write down on a piece of paper the narrative points you'd expect in a story about drug runners and this film hits them neatly. It can't help but undermine the fascinating work done elsewhere here. Certainly in the first half there is enough focus on the Wayúu people, with whole sequences constructed around traditions and how these are being reshaped by the incursion of crime. If the tragedy that befalls in the final third isn't quite as impactful as it needs to be it is due to the more-engaging exploration of the steady corruption of the tribe.
Where this film flourishes is in its gorgeous cinematography. Expansive deserts and lush rainforests make up the settings of Birds of Passage and David Gallego's work manages to be both intimate in its focus and expansive in its scope, with a distinctive look that makes this one of the most beautiful films of the year. In a relatively short career (this is only the seventh film he has been credited as cinematographer for) Gallego has marked himself out as one of the most talented figures in the field, with Birds of Passage sitting alongside the likes of I Am Not A Witch and Embrace the Serpent as works of staggering beauty.
Birds of Passage is a film of two halves. On the one hand it is a fascinating, gorgeously shot exploration of a relatively unknown tribe. On the other it is a predictable gangster thriller, whose tragic final third lacks the resonance it needs. If the film frustrates it is because it comes so close to brilliance and finds itself held back by its narrative limitations.
This is a London Film Festival preview and Birds of Passage will be released at a later date.