Photo: The Orchard
Before We Vanish by Luke Gorham Film

Birds of Passage | Ciro Guerra & Cristina Gallego

March 15, 2019

Birds of Passage, Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s latest collaborative effort (previously a producer, Gallego serves as co-director here) finds the duo continuing their thematic excavation of the indigenous tradition and its relationship with modernity. As with their previous work Embrace of the Serpent, in which Guerra and Gallego opted for a scaled-back approach to the jungle adventure narrative, Birds offers a fresh, modest take on the oft-histrionic (Colombian) drug trade subgenre. By beginning in a small, matriarchal community ruled by codes of honor and ritual, the directors ensure the film never strays far from the specificity of this milieu; everything that follows is contextualized by the preservation or perversion of custom.

If the film’s trajectory feels inevitable from its early moments, the particularities of culture and character frequently delight (a traditional courtship dance proves a kinetic highlight), while the film’s capitalist critique takes root in surprising and schematically subversive character work. But it’s the consistent marriage of form and voice that proves most affecting — thematic concerns mirrored in compositions of striking, violent beauty — such as in the filmmakers’ final act, a wide-angle shot of a solitary, lavish home, flames licking its windows and collapsed walls, the entire scene backed by a clear blue sky meeting arid flats of ocher and beige, and the drone of assault weapons fading into silence.

Published as part of Before We Vanish | Issue 2.