Late last night I saw Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra‘s Birds of Passage, an indigenous drug-dealing film which many Cannes critics have been creaming over. It’s been justly celebrated as a fresh nativist take on the Columbian drug boom of the ’70s and ’80s, using the perspective of the Wayuu culture. I appreciated this distinction, and all of that is fine.
But the dramatic theme is roughly the same we’ve been seeing in drug-dealing movies for decades, which is that (a) dealing will pollute your soul and (b) sooner or later anyone who seeks to profit from big-time drug dealing will wind up dead on the floor. Sooner or later all dealers form gangs and go to war with each other, etc. The principal Wayuu characters start out simple and pure and just looking to better their lives, and by the end they’ve all taken a bullet or several.
The perspective is interesting, but it’s basically the same bouillabaisse.
During the last third you’re saying to yourself, “Okay, everyone’s gonna die, this scourge will consume itself, the black birds of death are circling so let’s just get it over with….kill everyone, it’s late, I’d like to go home and catch some zees.”
I believed at first that the lack of English subtitles on last night’s print (the Spanish-language drama was shown with French subtitles) wouldn’t be a problem — I understood the gist of almost all the scenes. But after a while I began to feel irritated that I was missing out on countless particulars contained in the dialogue. I expect I’ll see it again someday with English subtitles, and then we’ll see what goes.