“I want to learn how to fly a plane, not ride a horse.” – A young boy in Birds of Passage
Birds of Passage (Pajaros de verano) is a crushing portrayal of the tragic shift of Columbian spiritual traditionalism into the narcoterrorism of international drug trafficking. Co-directors Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego astutely track the rationalizations of families beginning in the 1960s, who succumb to the cancerous greed at the root of such a descent. When the spiritual bearings of a culture are undermined, chaos fills the vacuum.
In a magnificently steely performance, Carmina Martinez evokes an indigenous matriarch named Ursula, whose steadiness of personal character nonetheless falters into petty lapses in her judgements of the younger men in her family and their “professional” contacts. Contrary to certain postmodern orthodoxies regarding gender, Ursula actually does have power and agency. Regrettably, she turns a blind eye to that. There’s a stunning scene where other matriarchs essentially call her family out on the slippery slope to dehumanizing others they’ve so brutishly slidden down. Ursula is a truly tragic figure in the Shakespearean sense: a woman of superlative virtue and inner strength, yet dreadfully flawed.
As clannish drug trade infighting gets bloodier and be warned, perversely scatological, Birds of Passage serves as a disturbing reminder of the nefarious global drug trade, which the film points out, benefits enormously from product demand from the U.S. The factors that contribute to failed states in Latin America are not glossed over. Birds of Passage makes us consider that we as humans have the will to choose wrong over right. And when we choose wrong, as the film demonstrates at critical points, oh the woe that ensues.
Birds of Passage
Edina Cinema, 3911 W. 50th St., Edina
Opens March 8