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Ursula is insisting on a lot of cows, goats and necklaces. Where on earth is Rapayet going to find the money?

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The answer is — from the gringos , the hippy American Peace Corps volunteers who are handing out anticommunist leaflets and asking the locals where they can score some grass. Soon a lucrative connection is set up, and he is able to marry Zaida. Are violence and paranoia becoming ritualistically absorbed into the culture of the Wayuu themselves? As it happens, the factual accuracy of Birds of Passage has been challenged by Colombian and American historians who argue there is no evidence that either the Wayuu or the Peace Corps were involved in drugs.

It is fair comment, although Gallego and Guerra never purported to be doing other than exercising the freest poetic licence in the service of a higher truth. This is about revelation — or hallucination.

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Are these ceremonies accurately reported? But the film shows cultural expressions being intensified and warped by the new energies of the drug trade. There is a bizarre sequence in which a drug meet goes sour, people are shot and Rapayet decrees that not only must people involved be given a decent, discreet burial but the drug plane must itself be broken up and buried. If I have a criticism of Birds of Passage it is that the character of Zaida herself, so vivid and thrilling at the beginning the movie, tamely fades out almost immediately, a mute wife and mother whose relationship with Rapayet is disappointingly irrelevant.

Yet there are moments of sublime mystery in this film, swooping out of the screen like the birds themselves.

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Facebook Twitter Pinterest. Topics World cinema Peter Bradshaw's film of the week. Gallego took on co-directing duties with her husband for the first time, juggling long days that required tricky on-location shoots in rugged outdoor environments assaulted by the elements. And in the midst of the production, Guerra and Gallego — partners in art and life for more than 20 years who raised two children together — got divorced.

In the canon of Colombian cinema to date, it stands out as a bonafide masterpiece of cultural biography and deserves its place in the awards conversation. The former couple has no regrets about the bumpy ride. That first step into the illicit trade leads to a string of violence and ruthless empire-building across five chapters, as Rapayet transforms into the overlord of a drug war bound to collapse on top of him.

Haunted by ghosts and surrounded by desperation, his journey epitomizes the chaotic roots of illegality that would haunt Colombia for generations to come.


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The story is loosely based on real events. For the Wayyu, however, it remains an integral aspect of their identity.

For Gallego, the project offered the opportunity to complicate perceptions about Colombia both nationally and abroad, while reconciling perceptions of its older traditions with 20th-century developments. As Gallego took the lead in developing the screenplay and the dynamics between several characters, she decided to tackle directing duties alongside her husband.


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  • Like her husband, Gallego insisted that their separation had no impact on the daily effort to move the project along. To gain access to the Wayyuu community, the filmmakers had to approach the leaders of clans throughout the region. They were there all the time to make sure everything was right.

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    Meanwhile, the directors developed an ambitious approach to the genre components of the story. Instead, the entire battle unfolds from a single, static shot.


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    • But excitement found them nonetheless.