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Ocean waves and desert dunes.

Birds of Passage: A Union of Tradition and Capitalism


This film perfectly narrates a tragedy, one comparable to any classic Greek or Shakespearean tale.

In one of the world’s most desolate and arid landscapes, a desert beneath a sky of a blue so deep that it may seem the sea is upside down; here passes much of Birds of Passage (2018). Such minimalism generates a notable contrast with the clothes of the Wayúu people settled in the desert. And, throughout their tale, the attention to objects, colors, textures, and the gestures of the characters, generates a brutal beauty accentuated as the story’s climax approaches.

Birds of Passage is a tragedy, comparable to any classic Greek or Shakespearean story, and in which a struggle for power between families reaches a level that might be understood as a war between tradition and capitalism. A natural union between the culture of the Wayúu people, who know nothing of the abundance and material wealth generated through the commercialization of marijuana which grows naturally in an area very near to their own.

We’re introduced first to Zaida, just out of the confinement demanded by her tradition, and for which she spent a year preparing to weave blankets, almost like a Penelope who wove while waiting for Odysseus. At the same time, Rapayet, a young worker from a respected family but with little else to offer, falls suddenly in love with her. He intends, through sheer force of will, to obtain the exorbitant dowry demanded by Úrsula, Zaida’s mother and the town matriarch.

But why then, should the already wealthy and powerful Úrsula demand such an exorbitant dowry? Is it, perhaps, but one more way of showing the unattainability of her social standing? Upon seeing Rapayet’s compliance with her excessive demand, why doesn’t she question the surrender of her daughter? Recognizing the young man’s will made material, the matriarch can’t but keep her word, and surrenders herself to the possibility of a power she’d henceforth never even glimpsed.

Notions of excessive wealth, of voracious competition, and of a fulminating success have only ever been achieved under capitalist systems. And, for those who believe, I have nothing, and therefore nothing to lose, any company that can break the rules of this game in reaching a goal, becomes indisputably valid. It becomes a kind of revolutionary vindication. In the case of Rapayet, who recognizes that he can easily create just such a company as one of his uncles owns hectares of marijuana, the risk seems minimal, even easily imaginable, because he’s never taken into account the greed and ambition of the friends and family closest to him.

In the Wayúu tradition, birds provide warnings of evil to people, and have presented themselves in a succession of events in Wayúu history. Dreams also provide important omens. Another winking signal comes in the song of a wise old man who sings of the transformation of tradition in the cases of the families depicted.

Aristotle enunciated, on the classical tragic form, that tragedy is “is an imitation [mimēsis] of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude… through pity and fear effecting the proper purgation [catharsis] of these emotions.” The escalation of wealth is almost immediate. Suddenly there is an absurd mansion in the middle of the arid desert and, inside it, we no longer see the Wayúu people around Úrsula, but her family now a nucleus consisting of only Rapayet, Zaida, their children, and the matriarch (guarded by her guardians and workers).

Úrsula’s son, Leonidas proves the impossibility of any union between tradition and material wealth. Neither controlled nor educated by his mother, Leonidas was growing up as the wealth accumulated and through his character and his understanding of the facts, Leonidas will provide the impetus towards an escalation in the violence between these same families. Rapayet’s only friend Moises and with whom he began cultivating marijuana, was also the one who, through his own ambition marred the results, it will be Leonidas who carries the flag leading the tragedy onward toward its rapid culmination.


By Lucía Treviño @LuciaMariaTA

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