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Birds of Passage offers a look at the rise of Colombia’s drug business through the eyes of the country’s indigenous Wayuu people.

Courtesy of TIFF

Birds of Passage

Directed by: Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra

Written by: Maria Camila Arias and Jacques Toulemonde Vidal

Story continues below advertisement

Starring: Jose Acosta and Natalia Reyes

Classification: 14A; 125 minutes

rating

3 out of 4 stars

To go by my Netflix homepage, I only want to watch trashy series about drug cartels. I believe the streaming service has approximately 17 series dedicated to Pablo Escobar alone. But there are stories to tell about the rise of narcotics before even the King of Cocaine entered the scene, and ways to do so that don’t evoke cheap American thrillers. With Birds of Passage, Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra – the team behind the Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent – look at the rise of Colombia’s drug business through the eyes of the country’s indigenous Wayuu people, focusing on one man (Jose Acosta, in a devastating performance) desperate to impress the love of his life (Natalia Reyes).

Natalia Reyes plays the love interest of the story's protagonist, played by Jose Acosta.

Courtesy of TIFF

The narrative arc leans toward the predictable – of course the path to easy fortune is paved with corruption and death – and Gallego and Guerra do occasionally stretch out their scenes past the point of meditative and toward static boredom, especially in the film’s first half. But the impact of modern vice upon the Wayuu is a captivating tale that’s never been told before, which is all the more refreshing for Gallego and Guerra’s unsentimental vision. And while most drug thrillers wrap up in a too-neat, even wink-wink fashion, the final few minutes of Birds of Passage leave a particularly brutal, lingering impression.

Birds of Passage opens March 1 in Toronto and Montreal.

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