Colombian film tracks the rise and demise of a drug lord from a unique perspective

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A soulful, spiritual "Scarface" tale, "Birds of Passage" is a stirring Colombian crime epic that shows how the values and traditions of family and community are wiped away when they're entangled in drugs and money.   

"Birds of Passage" is based on a true story, and unfolds from roughly 1968-1980. José Acosta is Repayet, a scrappy, underclass bachelor who announces his intentions to marry Zaida (Natalia Reyes), who comes from a family wealthier than his own. In order to earn her hand in marriage, he must provide a dowry, which he secures by turning to the marijuana trade. 

Business is good, so Repayet's venture grows into an empire. Over the years, those closest to Repayet — including loose cannon Moisés (Jhon Narváez) and spoiled brat Leonídas (a terrifying, empty-eyed Greider Meza) — challenge his business from the inside.

Separating "Birds of Passage" from any number of South American drug tales, from "Narcos" to 2017's "American Made," is its point of view, which is told from the perspective of the Wayuu people. The group's elders warn of trouble on the horizon, while family matriarch Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez) mixes the long-standing beliefs of her people with an imposing business savvy. She leaves a lasting impression.  

Directors Cristina Gallego and Ciro Guerra divide the film into five chapters, each introduced with a title card, lending to the film's large-scale sense of storytelling. The film's glorious cinematography (hat tip to David Gallego) compliments the directors' vision, making "Birds of Passage" a film that flies as high as its ambition. 

'Birds of Passage'

GRADE: A-

Not rated: Violence, language, drug themes

Running time: 125 minutes

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

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