In Colombia’s northern La Guajira desert, the Wayuu people live according to centuries’ old traditions. Rapayet (Acosta) courts Zaida (Reyes) via an elaborate bird-like dance, but her mother Ursula (Martinez) demands a high dowry. In order to pay, Rapayet starts selling marijuana to American Peace Corps workers. As demand grows in the 1970s, Rapayet and Ursula find themselves torn between the dangerous world of drug running and the ancient ways of their people.
Elevated by stunning cinematography and sound design, this family saga is part ethnographic study and part gangland thriller. With birds a folkloric leitmotif, the narrative unfolds with the rhythms of a traditional rags-to-riches gangster tale, but the accompanying focus on the old ways of the Wayuu ratchets up the dramatic tension. Martinez’s fiery strength stands out among a captivating cast of professional and amateur actors. Take flight with “Birds of Passage.”