Young Zaida gets markings on her face, then performs a coming-of-age dance inside a circle of spectators with her robe to the wind. This dance is called the “Yonna,” and is done to imitate the courtship ritual that some birds may take when it’s time to mate. She looks just like an elaborate sparrow that’s kicking the dust with her wings, while the man she’s about to face a lifetime of turmoil with is like the consequence of choosing the wrong mate.
Despite how untrue it is to the historical account, Birds of Passage draws you into the feeling of the illegal drug trade that happened in Colombia throughout the time of the Vietnam War. You feel like the world sucks up your moral stability until you’re dry to the bone as the cicadas continually buzz from scene to scene. What keeps it all flowing so smoothly is that each scene starts with a visual idea of hope that connects with the tragic scene before, and it works vice-versa too. Whenever joy happens, tragedy follows, and whenever dismay happens, hope comes up for a moment before the heartbreaking finale. The theme of a plague approaching, both literally and metaphorically, keeps creeping closer to you as you experience the events deconstruct, a sense of dread you instantly comprehend when the main protagonist, Rapayet, watches a cricket on the ground.
There’s never a sigh of relief, the conflict continually closes you in like a dust cloud. Among the elements that cloud your vision of this feature, one is an actual cloud of dirt that obtrudes the foreground right before a horse race. That striking use of a dull brown color is the perfect offset for the use of green in the cinematography; here it symbolizes the color of greed, and since so much of what grows in Colombia is green, that means these people are seen as exploiting their own home for their garden of inanimate pesos. That’s why it’s so effective to have the locusts present: they feed on grass, so naturally, they are God’s way of judging these drug traders for their intense greed. They gain some, they lose all.
The actors put in the best they can offer to suggest intentional imbalance in their performances to give the strong feeling of losing all they have foolishly gained. That particularly goes to José Vicente, although he always wears sunglasses, you don’t need to see his eyes to turn uneasy like you’re supposed to as you watch him monologue. He, like the tone of the movie, is very slow moving, enough to help you notice the other objects of lust these people have submitted their greed to, including the necklaces that the women put tremendous spiritual value into.
But there are still the shortcomings too, particularly in this film’s treatment toward Americans, who are represented here by the Hippie movement. While it does say that they got their sights set on fighting communism, they don’t do much else for the Colombians besides party on the beach and purchase their weed. There really should have been more done to give these Hippies something valuable to say in this otherwise profound film that everyone in Colombia sould see. Even then, the immediate social relevance of this motion picture may not strike hard and true to everyone living in Colombia with its incredibly slow pace. Not enough is done to stir as much of a reaction from the viewer, including a bizarre moment when a man eats a banana peel. One of the bigger instances of sparking distance, particularly between the families of the story, is splitting the narrative into “songs,” which ultimately wasn’t necessary.
Then there’s the biggest issue of all, its complete disregard to what really happened. It’s not actually a true story like it says, and several reseachers have already proved so. You probably didn’t need me to tell you that though, because there are issues in simple logic that are kind of hard to overlook, the most glaring of all being the simple fact that Zaida never ages after the fifteen-plus years this film portrays. I guess that means you could say Colombia picked the wrong submission for the Foreign Language Film Oscar, not that it was the worst choice, but they could have done better.
Instead, the movie’s focus is on the visual impact. There’s rain that mists the landscape to make you think the road ahead has only despair ready. A plane burial reminds you of what man can create and uncreate just as easily. A storm of locusts frightens you when the despair finally hits with what man can neither create nor uncreate. The visual effects team goes unnoticed so frequently, so let me take this chance to congratulate them for making this series of dismaying images so effective.
That’s what I guarantee you’ll get from experiencing Birds of Passage, you’ll want to cover your face as you mourn how low these men are willing to go for greed, even to the level of a dog. The great cry this memorial service of a cinematic meditation wants you to partake in will allow you to soar over those who want to fly but haven’t given time to grow into their wings.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Cheston, Arleen; Orth, Maureen; Wasserman, Abby. “How narco movie ‘Birds of Passage’ tramples the truth.” Colombia Reports. 21 Feb 2019. Web. <https://colombiareports.com/how-narco-movie-birds-of-passage-tramples-the-truth/>.
Ciudad Lunar. Marketerosweb. Web. <http://ciudadlunar.com/pajaros-de-verano/>.
Desando, John. “Birds of Passage.” Digital image. Central Ohio’s Original NPR Stationn. Disquis, 21 Mar 2019. Web. <https://www.wcbe.org/post/birds-passage>.