I was in Oxford over the weekend, at the Guided Retreat for my Creative Writing MSt students. This is the last time I see them before they have to submit their end-of-year projects, so quite a lot of my time was spent (with my second-year students) nodding and saying, ‘Well, this is nearly done, good job,’ and (with my first-year students) shaking my head and saying, ‘Burn it all, burn it to the ground’. Tough love, you see. Made me the man I am today.
But, on the Sunday evening, I had nothing to do, and so I went to the cinema. Which is what you do when you have nothing to do, and need to fill your head with someone else’s ideas of what might constitute a good time.
I went to the Ultimate Picture Palace, which I haven’t been to for years. I went on my first official date with my wife there, to see Annie Hall, which I saw again recently and which (lordy, lordy, lordy) the years and the world really haven’t been kind to. But that’s another story (‘We enjoy your films. Particularly the early, funny ones‘).
The film I saw was Pájaros de verano, a Colombian movie released in the UK as Birds of Passage. It’s about the drug trade in Colombia, told via the experiences of indigenous people who get involved in it. It comes across as half something out of Werner Herzog, an anthropological treatise of some kind, mildly exploitative, and half a standard narco-thriller, with all the emotional beats (‘you killed my best friend!’; ‘this is family!’; ‘Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in‘) you might expect of the genre. I loved it.