Director Ciro Guerra, whose mesmerizing Embrace of the Serpent similarly treated the havoc wrought when gringos take an interest in local produce (there, it was rubber; here, it’s marijuana), teams with his producer on that film, Cristina Gallegos, to bring you a classical tragedy, complete with cantos for chapters and a narrative chorus — in this case, an ancient shepherd, bewailing both the end of his life and his profession as memory-keeper. There are numerous echoes of The Godfather, notable among them the way market forces, exemplified by the drug trade, can work to destroy the old ways of doing things, and the old bonds that preserve both family and the civilization it supports. Another echo: the unintended effects of letting outsiders into the clan, though this time it’s a husband and not a wife. (It’s 1968, and rootless Rapayet needs a hefty dowry to marry his way into the Pushaina clan — and to win over its spiritual governor, the matriarch Ursula — so he hits upon a plan to sell weed to some Peace Corps kids who have come to Colombia to preach capitalism over communism.) But the tragedy is even sharper, because here, there are still some who would never justify familial betrayal by saying, “It’s just business.” As with Serpent, there are plenty of spooky spiritual visitations: dreams, ghosts, animal visitors, etc. But in that film, the culture that attended to those visitations had been ravaged, and so they lost some of their meaning and urgency. Here, the culture is intact (if cracking), and when people exhume a decayed body to clean the bones and ask them for wisdom, you half expect the skull to start chattering.
Length: 2 hours, 5 minutes