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Chronicler(s) of the End of the End: On Ciro Guerra and Cristina Gallego’s Pájaros de Verano (Birds of Passage) (2018)

“The root of oppression is loss of memory.” – Paula Gunn Allen

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The top of the world is a mansion in the middle of the desert. A stupendous structure in its personal cubical approach, useful but stylish, stuffed full of markers of wealth and standing – ornate European furnishings, a prowling black panther paperweight – it stands out on the arid panorama like a sore on wholesome skin. It’s a monument to pointlessness, unprotected from the wind and sand that may ultimately grind it right down to nothing.

The top of the world is the matriarch of her clan, a lady of unusual fierceness and courage, a vessel of lore, a bearer of reminiscence, yet not almost as sensible as she believes herself to be, sporting a gaudy designer watch. She, who dedicated her life to heading off the apocalypse, couldn’t assist however be sucked into and turn into half of the evil forces that brought it about, and when she’s advised, at the end of the end, that she’s value nothing, she silently nods in settlement.

The top of the world is an orphaned baby, holding tightly something and every part she has left, watching a cloud of swarming locusts bear down upon her head.

These, plus many many different visions of destruction, desolation, and dying, constitute the bulk of Pájaros de Verano (Birds of Passage, 2018), the somber Colombian masterpiece that has already drawn comparisons to The Godfather and Breaking Dangerous, and for good cause, as its unapologetic ambition encompasses not solely the history and mythology of a forgotten individuals, but in addition Homer, Shakespeare, Paradise Misplaced, The Wasteland, and a lot more. It’s the fourth function movie by Ciro Guerra, firmly establishing him as one of the preeminent younger cinematic auteurs of South America, although it’s really the first function co-directed by Guerra and Cristina Gallego, or more accurately by Gallego and Guerra, though, truly, properly . . . hold that thought.

David Stannard claims in American Holocaust that “the destruction of the Indians of the Americas was, far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world.” Even “holocaust” and “genocide” fall brief, for weren’t there dozens of holocausts in the New World, a whole lot of genocides, uncounted apocalypses, some of which occurred not lengthy after the invaders first landed on the Caribbean, and some of which have stretched and stretched and persist right now, in Oklahoma, in Alaska, in the highlands of Central America, in the deserts of Colombia and Chile, in the shrinking Amazon rainforest, centuries-long apocalypses by ten thousand million cuts? “Omnicide” is extra prefer it, the homicide of the whole lot.

El Abrazo de la Serpiente (Embrace of the Serpent, 2015), Guerra’s jaw-dropping third function, is a tale of modern Native American life as post-apocalyptic nightmare. Set in the Colombian Amazon, amid the devastation wrought by rubber-greedy enslavers, by white-man’s illnesses, by dogmatic and Manichean Christianity, its protagonists are the leftovers, who cling to life out of behavior, for they have nothing left to stay for. A one-armed wretch, simply pores and skin and skeleton, presses the muzzle of a rifle to his brow and begs to be put out of his distress. A delirious Messiah urges his followers to eat him alive. A gathering of males grind down their sacred flower and literally make a toast to the end of every little thing. It’s a landscape as bleak as any conjured up in Mad Max or The Street or Youngsters of Males, except infinitely extra terrifying, because it happened, as a result of it’s occurring proper now in elements of our world we select to not see.

“Arid whiteness”

The final stage of the long long apocalypse, the finish of the finish, and the overarching interest of the film, is the disappearance of the reminiscences, the stories, the phrases of those who are gone. Karamakate, its protagonist, long a vessel of lore and a bearer of reminiscence, suffers the tragic fate of dwelling enough to see that ultimate loss, to see himself present with out memory. His only recourse, as a result of life is merciless and justice is a joke, is to cross on as much as he can of the words he can’t keep in mind to at least one of the people who wiped his out of history. El Abrazo de la Serpiente is a valiant, sensible, essential try at retaining alive some remnant of the reminiscence of Karamakate’s Coihuano individuals, and of many other unknown Amazonian peoples, impure and mutilated by appropriation as that remnant should by necessity be.

Pájaros de Verano is likewise a chronicle of the finish of the finish. The main target is now on the Wayúu clans, who inhabit the arid whiteness and sparse sierras of the remote La Guajira peninsula in northernmost Colombia. There, two families related by blood go into enterprise collectively, with disastrous consequences for all. The white desert is the area of Úrsula (Carmiña Martínez), this story’s Karamakate, who holds her clan along with the glue of custom. The green hills belong to Aníbal (Juan Bautista Martínez), who’s quick turning into one of the largest marijuana growers in the area. The households’ relations are cordial however distant, until young Rapayet (José Acosta) returns from years of exile among the Alijunas, those that’ve forgotten their words and adopted the ways of the invaders. Rapayet fancies Úrsula’s lovely daughter Zaida (Natalia Reyes). Úrsula asks for an outrageous dowry, understanding, hoping, that Rapayet will have the ability to get a slice of Aníbal’s enterprise and thereby deliver prosperity to her circle of relatives. However first she has to ensure the younger man sees the world as she does. “Do you speak Spanish, Rapayet?,” she inquires. “Yes,” he says, “but I prefer Wayuunaiki.” She nods, her face a mask of stone.

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Rapayet delivers, prosperity does come, however prosperity that rests on a putrid basis – medicine, bribes, homicide – that’s incongruous with the phrases that it’s purportedly preserving alive. Viewers on the lookout for Pájaros de Verano to study the Colombian drug wars might be disenchanted. There are not any encounters with the police and the army, apart from a quick scene by which a patrol is bribed out of the approach, never to be seen once more. There are not any cameos by Pablo Escobar or the Maoist guerrillas who stored the authorities busy whereas the Wayúu have been turning into dope magnates. There’s little in the method of strategic machinations or turf wars or thrilling shootouts, and much in the approach of heart-tearing decisions – greatest pal or cousin? mom or daughter? survival or honor? – and many many cold-blooded executions. This can be a story of two households destroying one another because their hearts have been rotted away by the apocalypse. When the film begins, the Wayúu are already survivors of genocide, their ultimate disappearance a tragic inevitability, made all the more tragic by the gusto with which they finish the job on themselves. Men fall prey to their lowest impulses, they rape, they humiliate, they battle when they need to run and vice versa, while ladies break one another over conflicting notions of household and loyalty. And so the mansion in the desert, torn to pieces by assassins, and Úrsula the matriarch introduced low, “you’re not even worth the bullet, lady.” And so the plague of locusts. And so the blind shepherd-poet singing about the “strong wind coming to erase our footprints from the sand” at the end of the end.

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The destruction of the mansion

Critics, who overwhelmingly adore it, have taken to calling El Abrazo de la Serpiente “hallucinatory,” which is understandable in that it accommodates a superbly rendered drug-induced hallucination and in that it recollects tales of insanity in the jungle similar to Heart of Darkness and Aguirre, the Wrath of God. This bears noting as a result of, for the protagonists of El Abrazo de la Serpiente and Pájaros de Verano, there isn’t a such thing as hallucinations, there are solely goals, which the bearers of memory are receptive to and understand whereas we – whites, Europeans, Gringos, caboclos, or Alijunas – do not. The biologist Evan Schultes seeks out Karamakate in El Abrazo de la Serpiente to help him discover ways to dream. “Dreams,” says one character in Pájaros de Verano, “are evidence of the soul’s existence.”

Because their makers are aware that they don’t know how one can dream, neither film is dreamlike in construction or intent. They are as an alternative constructed as myths, unreal solely in the sense of bowing to the needs of story as an alternative of the necessities of reality. “I personally feel very connected to the tradition of storytelling” is how Guerra places it to an interviewer, “in which we try to organize truth, and the events which are disorganized and make no sense and have no point, and we try to organize them through myth to try to understand them.” Each films are finally rejoinders to the Métis-Ojibwa leader Louis Riel’s prophetic dictum: “My people will sleep for one hundred years, but when they awake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

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“Úrsula the matriarch brought low”

And so, the artists. Earlier than Pájaros de Verano, Ciro Guerra’s movies have been Ciro Guerra’s. He is credited as writer and director of the intimate La Sombra del Caminante (Questioning Shadows, 2004) and the quietly devastating Los Viajes del Viento (The Wind Journeys, 2009), and as co-writer and director of El Abrazo de la Serpiente. Cristina Gallego, his wife and inventive collaborator for twenty years, is credited as producer of each and assistant editor in a pair of them. Not so for Pájaros de Verano, which was co-directed by Gallego and Guerra (notice the order), from a script by María Camila Arias and Jaques Toulemonde Vidal based mostly on an unique concept by Gallego (notice that IMDB.com lists Guerra as an “uncredited source” of the concept).

It turns out, as Gallego tells it, that her fifteen-year-old son requested her in the future why “if you and dad work equally hard, it’s always him giving interviews on television.” Why is his identify all the time on the marquee? After a sleepless night time looking for an answer, Gallego marched to her husband and “sentenced that from then on she would play as big a role as him.” And so it’s come to move. Gallego and Guerra have traveled to movie festivals touring with Pájaros de Verano and sat aspect by aspect for every interview. They have also, since that crucial conversation, gotten divorced, for causes they appropriately have not made public and hopefully never will.

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Cristina Gallego. Credit score Miami International Movie Pageant

This shift from Guerra to Gallego/Guerra issues. It calls for a reexamination of Guerra’s oeuvre thus far, especially in mild of the in depth similarities between Pájaros de Verano and El Abrazo de la Serpiente. Do the animal spirits that haunt both films come from Gallego or Guerra’s unconscious? To what degree is Toulemonde, co-writer of each movies, liable for these overlaps? Hopefully the answer will reveal itself in future collaborations between the two (it seems from the obtainable info that Gallego is, if at all, only tangentially related to Guerra’s upcoming Ready for the Barbarians).

Far be it for me to take something away from Guerra, who’s clearly a world-class expertise, and his work, which in a good world would grow to be the touchstone for filmmakers trying to depict Native American life with honesty and compassion. But Gallego’s open and brazen emergence out of the shadows, her hostile takeover of the front and middle, adds a further dimension to this already extraordinary movie. It calls consideration to all the voices and stories and phrases misplaced when formidable men put their very own egos first and everyone provides them a move. Very similar to I had by no means heard of the Wayúu till Gallego and Guerra brought their words again to life, impure and mutilated by appropriation as they need to of necessity be, I had by no means heard of Cristina Gallego (I had seen three of her films!) till she made me.

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Until otherwise famous, all photographs are courtesy of The Orchard.

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