In Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s “Birds of Passage” we get it all: gringos, grease guns and greed. Think the “Godfather’s” Corleone family in Northern Colombia.
For Sicilians we get the Wayuu, an enormous tribe with all the bells and whistles of a Brooklyn mob family in simpler clothes and family rituals, omertà like codes of honor and respect (no one can kill a word messenger).
For enemies we get the “alejunas,” which is pretty much everyone else.
The film starts with a weird courtship dance that is more bullfight choreography than dance, in the village square with armed men and boys watching from pickup trucks, and lining up to perform a prehistoric ballet with a young woman named Zaida (Natalia Reyes) in a billowing Scarlett abaya.
Winner, I presume, takes all.
Our principal player Rapayet (Jose Acosta), who wins his wife in this opening dance, is a quiet, respectable son who wants nothing but the best for his family. He is tall and handsome and very ambitious.
Rapayet senses the changes in the country, and sees opportunities in them.
Zaida’s Mama Ursula is the “Godmother” here who controls her family and surrounding village with a steely cold glance when things don’t go the way of the spirits. She slides around the village and its occupants in big, colorful, native garments and sandals, carrying with her everywhere the feared Wayuu talisman, a chunk of something mysterious wrapped in tamale leaves and a red velvet bag. 
Ursula is part witch, part priestess, who respects the past, but sports a huge gold Rolex on her right wrist. Where she got such a modern talisman is never explained.
At first it seems that we’re being sucked into a documentary about a jungle world of birds of color and sun drenched insects. It’s much more than that. This is rich tapestry of omens and dreams in which the creatures and Ursula play a part. 
The fields and forests of this place are rich in the magic crops of marijuana, and before long the 21st century rears its ugly head.
The gringos, a pack of Tom Cruise-types, arrive in their brand new colorful Cessnas, with bags of money and offers the Wayuus and other tribes can’t refuse. 
It’s 1967, and the air is full of the smell of weed and money and strange blue-colored booze. 
Soon boxes of American guns arrive and are stored in what used to be the crypts of the long dead.
Rapayet has won his Zaida in that dusty dance, and soon creates what will become the family business. Watch Ursula carefully. She is Don Corleone in sandals and a gold Rolex, and that talisman she totes around still carries powerful weight among her people.
Before the 203 minutes of this incredibly vivid film come to an explosively violent conclusion, Wayuus will become the Corleones, with a grandson who eerily echos the temper of big brother “Sonny.”
With bigger Cessnas and trucks full of drugs blossoming like desert flowers, everything changes.
A modern mansion appears in the bleak landscape, much like “Bick Benedict’s” stately home in “Giant,” and each life will be altered forever.
The finale will be as expected, bloody and violent.
Guerra and Gallego’s mastery of their story that is sliced into five chapters, each with a song title, never weakens. They create the coming social storm with subtle clouds and warm whispers that explode into the hot winds of war.
All the actors, a blend of pros and amateurs, comport themselves splendidly, but it is Colombian actor Natalia Reyes who sports the richest resume and is famous in her country for her film and television work. Reyes is a 2011 graduate of The Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film institute.

J.P. Devine, of Waterville, is a former stage and screen actor.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.