article img

Pajaros de verano

[…] The indigenous rituals, talismans, birds and traditional songs that infuse «Pájaros de Verano» are not only auguries of the misfortunes and sorrows that are about to unfold, but an indication of the cinematic power that comes with a vision as bold as the directors’ in their attempt to combine elements of genre cinema with ethnic motives and traces of magical realism.

[…] Gallego and Guerra craft a devastating but compelling picture of corruption and ruin, accompanied by an edgy musical score that mixes traditional rhythms with contemporary compositions and fuels the greater cultural conflicts embedded within the context of this visually arresting cartel drama.

Whether signifiers of good luck or omens of misfortune, birds can be found everywhere in Pájaros de verano, the eagerly awaited follow up to Ciro Guerra’s El abrazo de la serpiente, this time co-directed by his long-term producer and collaborator Cristina Gallego. But in a film so rich in symbols and other signs of superstition one has to look more closely to fully grasp the mythical and folkloric forces at play in what, at first sight, seems like just another reinvigoration of the cartel genre. For the indigenous rituals, talismans, birds and traditional songs that infuse Pájaros de verano are not only auguries of the misfortunes and sorrows that are about to unfold, but an indication of the cinematic power that comes with a vision as bold as the directors’ in their attempt to combine elements of genre cinema with ethnic motives and traces of magical realism.

Shot in the Guajira Desert in the northern part of Colombia and divided in five chapters (“cantos”) set in the years between 1968 and 1980, the film tells the story of the indigenous Wayuu clan that becomes involved in the booming trade of selling marijuana to Americans. Their downfall is more or less decided when young Rapayet (José Acosta) is seeking marriage into the family. Equally attractive and ambitious, he is hoping to be united with Zaida (Natalia Reyes), whose strict and vigilant mother Ursula (Carmina Martinez) is no less than the matriarch of the clan. The dance that is set up to confirm his intention goes well but Ursula is still not quite convinced by his worthiness of such highly esteemed marriage, so she sets him a task to prove his worth. Strong, powerful and protective of her family, she is a respected “word messenger” who is blessed with the gift of foresight, reading dreams and seeing omens everywhere. Yet, the greed that comes with fortune soon starts to intoxicate her mind and beliefs with a fierce pragmatism as Rapayet enters the family and she too becomes increasingly involved in her son-in-law’s dodgy business dealings.

What is ultimately at stake, however, is the integrity of the tribe and Ursula is prepared to go to some length in order to save it. Thus, as the film weaves through the five delicately textured chapters of its story, Gallego and Guerra craft a devastating but compelling picture of corruption and ruin, accompanied by an edgy musical score that mixes traditional rhythms with contemporary compositions and fuels the greater cultural conflicts embedded within the context of this visually arresting cartel drama. The film makes equally striking use of its imagery to depict the increasing tensions and contradictions within the story, for example, when Ursula holds an ancient family talisman while a shiny gold watch decorates her wrist. Later, as the family’s life becomes dangerously dictated by their ever growing hunger for material wealth, the metaphors are less subtle but all the more potent for that. As with El abrazo de la serpiente, Guerra and Gallego’s work here is dictated by a meticulous observation of cultural patterns and practices that is inherent and present at all times. Still, more than that, Pájaros de verano never feels restricted by its subject, instead merrily subverts cherished mob movie clichés along the way: the patriarch mob leader, the application of cartel war methods, and the ways in which the rules of organised crime clash and intertwine with indigenous values and rituals.

If the unsubtle message of El abrazo de la serpiente was that the Amazon can offer the world something far more valuable than its abundant material resources, Pájaros de verano is a stark reminder about the consequences of war in every shape or form and the decay of traditional values and modes of life that comes with it.

First published: October 23, 2018

Pájaros de Verano | Film | Ciro Guerra, Cristina Gallego | COL-DK 2018 | 125’ | Locarno Festival 2018

More Info 

Screenings in Swiss cinema theatres 

Explore more

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay in touch