“Birds of Passage,” directed by Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego, was shown Wednesday night as the first installment of Hispanic Film Festival, as well as this October’s edition of the Foreign and Independent Film Series. Showings for the Hispanic Film Festival will be held each Tuesday at 7 p.m. in Lindsay Young Auditorium throughout the rest of October.
“Birds of Passage” is “Scarface,"" just with an added pinch of a rich, indigenous culture.
Set in northern Colombia in the sixties and seventies, the film directly juxtaposes the customs of the Wayuu, a group native to Colombia which was never subjugated by the Spanish, to those introduced by outsiders in pursuit of material wealth.
The tone of the film is established within this juxtaposition. One of the first scenes in the film is the coming-of-age ceremony of one of the main female leads, Zaida, who is portrayed by Natalie Reyes. It’s a scene full of tradition -- traditional indigenous dress, ceremony and family.
This sphere of tradition is interrupted when Raphayet, portrayed by José Acosta, returns home from his time outside of the Wayuu, and begins to court Zaida. What stems from this union is almost Gabriel García Márquez-like in terms of small-town camp and pageantry and the film’s “magical” realism aspects. The interruption of traditional elements establishes a tone of upheaval, one that lasts for the entirety of the film.
As most young men are, Raphayet is enterprising. He turns to outside resources in order to pay Zaida’s dowry, and begins the modernization of the film’s clan. Zaida’s mother, Ursula, is the matrilineal leader of the clan and directly opposes him. In the style of the aforementioned Marquez, the women are almost always correct. What follows suit is the almost-stereotypical canon of Colombian media, one that centers around the topic of the drug and substance trade.
In order to get as close to a full understanding of “Birds of Passage,” I actually bought the film in order to re-watch it after Hispanic Film Festival. Both viewings gave a sense of understanding of the plot — drugs, death, love — but the full understanding of the traditional elements of the Wayuu people’s culture evaded me.
This, I think, is where the influence of Gabriel García Márquez comes in the strongest. Marquez’ works, “Chronicle of A Death Foretold” and “One Hundred Years of Solitude,”both surround traditional natures of families and communities. These families and communities are all very tight-knit and set in their ways and are not entirely open to outside interference. Things are not entirely explained for those not familiar with the culture, which allows the audience to take into account the sense of normalcy these traditions hold in the Wayuu community.
Guerra and Gallego’s use of this influence allows for a sense of sincerity to come through the film. Marquez was a student of the Wayuu and allowed it to influence his own work. As an homage to Marquez, the directors of the film hired as many Wayuu people as they could find.
“Birds of Passage” allows the audience to learn about a culture not commonly featured anywhere in popular culture by way of a dramatically addicting epic of culture. It is a film that I would recommend to anyone looking for the knowledge provided by a documentary, but the intrigue of a Hollywood blockbuster.