Having made an instant impression with Of Horses and Men (2013), Icelandic director Benedikt Erlingsson makes light of the tricky task of producing a second picture of commensurate quality with Woman At War, a satire on fake news, economic colonialism, government conspiracy and environmental protest that could not be more timely, bearing in mind the impact that Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg keeps having on the campaign to alert a sleeping world to the perils of climate change. One is tempted to suggest that demonstrators should in future carry banners featuring the image of Halla the Mountain Woman from this exceptional sophomore outing, which has a wit, insight and restraint that eludes so many advocatorial film-makers who insist on banging a drum when a quiet word would suffice. 

Although 49 year-old Icelandic choir director Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) uses a bow and arrow to bring down the electricity cable connected to the Rio Tinto-owned aluminium smelting plant, Spanish tourist Juan Camillo (Juan Camillo Roman Estrada) is arrested by the police for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. With a helicopter scouring the rough terrain around the farm belonging to Sveinbjörn (Jóhann Sigurðarson), Halla confesses to her crime and the four other recent power outages in the hope that he will sympathise with her cause and hide her. When the chopper lands, he sends sheepdog Woman to bark at the cops and lends Halla an old Volvo to make her way back to town with an in-shot three-piece band comprised of pianist David Thor Jonsson, drummer Magnús Trygvason Eliassen and Sousaphonist Omar Gudjonsson serenading her on her way. 

Arriving at a choir rehearsal as though nothing has happened, Halla takes the time to copy some scores to report on her mission to Baldvin (Jörundur Ragnarsson), an accomplice within the ministry who warns her that the government has asked for American satellite assistance to monitor the moors in order to protect the promised Chinese investment in the island. Concerned she will be captured before she has issued her manifesto, Halla agrees to consider rethinking her tactics. But she is too committed to back down entirely, as the future of the planet is at stake. 

Placing her mobile in the fridge so it can't be bugged, Halla begins doing Tai Chi exercises in front of portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, while flipping through the news reports about the latest attack by the notorious `Mountain Woman'. She is interrupted by a phone call informing her that her four-year wait to adopt a child is over and she is summoned to the agency where a woman (Charlotte Bøving) presents her with a photograph of Nika (Margaryta Hilska), a four year-old from Donetsk who has been orphaned during the civil strife in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Halla admits that much has changed since she and her identical twin sister, Ása (also Geirharðsdóttir) applied to become single parents, but she promises to give her decision about pursuing her application as soon as possible. As she cycles away from the building, a choir of three women in traditional Ukrainian costumes (Iryna Danyleiko, Galyna Goncharenko, Susanna Karpenko) starts singing a lament, which continues as Halla goes swimming in the sea to clear her mind. 

As Juan Camillo is released from prison and makes a crack about a nearby collection of huts being Reykjavik, Ása concludes a meditation session with her students. She seeks inner peace in the same way that Halla crusades for climate awareness, but has no idea that her sister is an eco terrorist. Overjoyed at the news that she is going to become an aunt, Ása urges Halla to go to Ukraine to meet Nika. However, she also tells Halla that she has been accepted to spend two years in an Indian ashram and will be in total seclusion for the duration. 

Stealing a typewriter from an antique shop by setting off an alarm clock to distract the owner, Halla produces a single-sheet declaration, which she photocopies in the choir office and disseminates from the rooftop of a city centre hotel. Some of the bypassers are more interested in posing for selfies with the paper than reading it. But Baldvin is appalled that Halla has gone public and joins his colleagues on a visit to the birthplace of Icelandic democracy in a brainstorming session on how to bury the bad news. He is relieved, therefore, when Halla announces to the choir that she is going to be a mother, as he hopes she will cease her activities. 

When they meet in the office, he shows her CCTV pictures of her disguised self entering the hotel and warns her that the Israeli secret service is now helping tighten security. Moreover, an internal investigation to find the mole has been launched and he admits to being terrified of being caught. As she walks home, wheeling her bike, Halla looks through the windows of the houses on the street and realises that every TV channel is talking about her crusade. She hopes that the viewers will see through the spin being put on her actions and support her aims. 

Meeting up with Ása at the swimming baths, Halla is amused to find a four year-old girl (Þórhildur Ingunn) hiding in her locker. She asks her mother about clothing sizes so she can prepare for Nika's arrival and is taken aback when Ása joins the woman in condemning the Mountain Woman attacks because they are going to hit ordinary people in the pocket. The sisters squabble about effective forms of individual action and Halla gets home to find the television is on (because the band had been watching it). She is infuriated by the smugness of a speech being given by the Prime Minister (Björn Thors), in which he announces that the Chinese investment has been recovered and that Rio Tinto plan to expand the aluminium plant. 

Gathering items hidden in secret places around her home, Halla uses a pram to smuggle them to the borrowed Volvo, which she uses to haul the gate off a protective grille. She then buys chicken manure with some plants at a garden centre and gets past a police checkpoint by claiming she is taking a floral birthday present to her cousin, Sveinbjörn. In fact, she merely leaves the car at his farm and heads into the wilderness to survive a night out in a tent and escape capture when the drone being used to survey the area alights upon Juan Camillo instead. 

While he is being arrested for a second time, Halla uses the Semtex she has stolen to bring down a power pylon. While cutting the tethering wires, she gashes her hand and has to use gaffer tape to staunch the bleeding. But she has the satisfaction of downing the drone with her bow and arrow (while wearing a Mandela mask to hide her face) and smashes it with a stone before making her way back to civilisation. Forced to hide under a rock, as a helicopter flies overhead, Halla uses the carcass of a dead ram to throw the snoopers off the trail and leaves it on the riverbank to attract the attention of sniffer dogs while she wades across a fast-flowing stream to the other side. 

As she staggers across the freezing moors in the dusk light, Halla is glad to see `alleged cousin' Sveinbjörn parked on the road waiting for her. He hides her in a trailer full of sheep and chews out the cops on the roadblock for having the temerity to stop and search him on his own land. Having bluffed his way through, Sveinbjörn carries Halla to some hot springs to warm her up and she floats on her back and gazes up at the sky with a mixture of satisfaction and relief. The next morning, Sveinbjörn drives her home and answers the door when she is in the shower. Having come to drop off some clothes for Nika, Ása takes seeing the stranger in her stride and smiles quietly as she leaves. 

Dropping Halla at the airport to fly to Ukraine, Sveinbjörn tells Halla not to be a stranger, as he is sure they are related. However, a forensic team has found a sport of Halla's blood near the pylon and the cops are conducting DNA tests on all passengers leaving Iceland. Holding herself together, Halla ponders her next move when she hears a news bulletin announcing that Ása has been detained as the Mountain Woman. As she teaches yoga, everyone in the queue thinks the arrests makes sense, but Halla feels sick and rushes out of the terminal to a taxi. She asks the driver to pull over so she can throw up and the luckless Juan Camillo comes over to ask if she is okay, as she hides Nika's photograph under a soft fold of moss. He is arrested for the third time, as a SWAT team swoops on Halla after the cabby calls in with her whereabouts.

While Halla is awaiting trial, Ása comes to visit. Aware they are being watched, she tells her sister that she needs to spend her time in contemplation, while she goes to Ukraine to collect Nika, whose adoption has fortuitously been allocated to her. However, Ása has also arranged for Sveinbjörn to cause a power cut so they can change clothes while the surveillance camera is off and reassures Halla that she will be find in her maximum security ashram. Snapping into her new persona, Halla marches out of the cell and drives to the airport, past the musicians and singers who are waiting for her by the side of another road when she arrives at the orphanage to meet Mika. They bond while drawing flowers and the little girl happily links her fingers with her new mother, as they travel by bus to the airport. Floodwater causes them to abandon the vehicle, however, and Halla carries her daughter, as the band and chorus wade kneedeep behind her. 

Where to start in praising a film that is guaranteed a spot in the end of year Top 10? Why not begin with Bergsteinn Björgúlfsson's cinematography, because the way in which he captures the rugged beauty of the Icelandic countryside can't help but convince the audience of the rectitude of the cause for which Halla is prepared to go to such extremes? However, the use of long shots to reinforce her insignificance and the magnitude of her struggle is also astute, as is the manner in which Erlingsson places the musical and singing trios (which Halla never sees) on different shot planes at various times to add a touch of surreal soul to proceedings that never cease to provoke thought and/or smiles. But the contrasting styles devised for them by composer Davíð Þór Jónsson cannily reflects Halla's daredevil antics and her more contemplative moods. 

The support playing is also splendid, with Jóhann Sigurðarson bringing a sense of bearish compassion to Farmer Sveinbjörn that contrasts with the equally devoted, but skittish support provided by Jörundur Ragnarsson's nervous civil servant. Even Juan Camillo Roman Estrada adds a touch of continental eccentricity, as the Spaniard whose constant harassment reflects the suspicion of outsiders exacerbated by Iceland's insularity. Moreover, the exceptional Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir perfectly complements her own performance as Halla with her knowing (and nimbly integrated by editor David Alexander Corno) turn as Ása, the twin whose physical, if not psychological resemblance allows Erlingsson and co-scenarist Ólafur Egilsson to get away with what would otherwise have been a creakily contrived conclusion. 

As the Earth-hugging Halla, however, Geirharðsdóttir combines conscience and deception, ingenuity and naiveté, and resilience and resignation, as she exploits her status as a pillar of the community to undermine the socio-economic foundations on which it has been built in order to save her neighbours from themselves. It's an outstanding performance in a quirkily comical and sharply intelligent film that bears traces of both Aki Kaurismäki and Roy Andersson and leaves one wondering what the thrillingly promising Erlingsson (who also directed the 2015 circus documentary, Show of Shows) will do next. 

The rite of passage continues to fascinate film-makers and documentarist Jeremiah Zagar is the latest to fathom the mysteries of youth in We the Animals. Adapted from Justin Torres's 2011 novel, this 16mm delight evokes memories of David Gordon Green's George Washington (2000) and Benh Zeitlin's Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) and marks something of a creative leap for its director after making a clutch of shorts and the feature-length actualities, In a Dream (2008) and Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart (2014).

Jonah (Evan Rosado) lives in upstate New York with his older siblings, Manny (Isaiah Kristian) and Joel (Josiah Gabriel) and their Puerto Rican father, Paps (Raúl Castillo), and white American mother, Ma (Sheila Vand). The brothers are inseparable, but Jonah keeps a secret journal in the springs of their bed and gets up in the night to write and draw by torchlight. Their parents work long hours and the boys sneak out of their shared room to see them sleeping on the sofa together. They enjoy hearing how they met at a school dance and have been sweethearts ever since. But Jonah likes the quiet moments at home, when Paps teaches them to dance to the radio in the kitchen, more than the more boisterous expeditions to the lake, one of which culminated in a furious row after Paps tries to force Jonah and Ma to learn how to swim by towing them into deep water and leaving them to fend for themselves.

One night, the boys hear Paps moving around and he tells them that he has just returned from the dentist because Ma needed her wisdom teeth removing. He claims the surgery was a bit rough, but reassures the boys that their mother will be fine in the morning. They watch him disappear into the darkness and creep into Ma's room, as Jonah's 10th birthday dawns. She tries to hide under the covers, but they see her cut lip and bruising around her mouth. Jonah promises he will still with her forever and she tells him to think of this as his 9+1 birthday, so he will always remain her little boy. When he kisses her on the mouth, however, Ma lashes out in pain and he cowers at the corner of the bed and wonders what is going to happen.

With Ma refusing to get out of bed, the boys raid the fridge and cupboards for anything they can find to eat. When the phone rings, they opt against answering it. But they find an old phone in the basement and make each other giggle by playing out conversations between Paps and Ma, in which he pleads with her to let him come home. They huddle under the covers with their torches chanting `body heat' (they are invariably shirtless in shorts when at home) and Jonah continues to scribble in his notebook (with some of his drawings coming to pencil life, notably one depicting him floating to upwards after the lake incident). 

Having nearly been caught shoplifting in a corner store, the boys are nabbed in the act of pilfering from an allotment by a gnarled old man (Tom Malley). However, he invites them home for a feed and introduces them to his grandson, Dustin (Giovanni Pacciarelli), a tousled blonde who shows them video clips of sex phone lines and Jonah is surprised by Manny and Joel's coarse response to the sight of naked women. When the image switches to two men having sex, Jonah falls silent and he watches intently, hoping that the other don't notice. That night, he asks his brothers if they think Paps will come back and they are confident he will. Jonah dreams about him emerging from the lake and smoking and channels his thoughts into his drawings. although he is nearly caught when Joel wakes up and peers under the bed. 

Eventually, Ma gets up and starts cooking for them again. Paps keeps calling and they overhear an argument while they are hanging out in the basement. Paps gives Jonah a haircut and promises that he is back, although another row breaks out when he buy a pickup truck and Ma curses him for not getting a more practical family vehicle. But they go for a ride with the boys in the back and they enjoy themselves shooting at the stars with their fingers, while their parents kiss in the front seat. 

One morning, the boys hide behind the shower curtain and peer out to see their parents canoodling by the mirror. The sight and sounds reminds Jonah of the porn clips he has seen and the drawing he later confides to his notebook has an erotic edge. Embarrassed by being spied on by her sons, Ma gets behind the curtain with them and they chase Paps into the living room and jump on him when he comes searching for them. But Manny feels betrayed that he put fooling around with Ma before playing with them and slaps his father hard on his bare back. His siblings join in, as their frustration at not being at the centre of Paps's attention spills over. 

Some time later, Manny and Joel fall out when the latter refuses to take praying seriously and Jonah gets left behind when they charge off into the woods. He goes to Dustin's house and is invited to watch porn in the den and he notices the older boy's hand slipping down the front of his shorts. A banging on the window brings him back down to earth and he chases after his siblings, who need him to help with some chores. 

Paps works as a nightwatchman and, when Ma is on a clashing shift at the brewery, he takes his sons for a sleepover in his office. Jonah dislikes having a sleeping bag on the floor and dozes off on his father's knee at his desk, as Paps tells him he proud he is of having such a good-looking child. But they oversleep and the supervisor catches them sneaking out to the truck and Paps gets fired. They break down on the way home and have to get towed and Paps raises a smile, as Manny and Joel start banging on the paintwork and yelling out defiant slogans. However, he looks like half a man when Ma shoots him a look of contempt when they reach the house and she realises how much harder life is going to be without his wage. 

Needing a way of channelling his fury, Paps digs a grave in the back garden and the boys watch him toiling from the window. When he fails to come back inside, Ma goes out to him and only returns, cold and wet, when a rainstorm hammers down. Jonah is intrigued by the hole and wanders out to lie naked in the mud. He feels the soil covering his fingers and imagines himself levitating into the air in a moment of self-realisatory liberation - before descending back to the depths when his brothers find him and confide that they had always known he was weird. Lying under the bed that night, he draws his siblings as winged demons pulling him apart, as he tries to fly away.

They are woken by Ma urging them to grab some things before bundling them into the truck. She says they are running away and suggests Spain as a possible destination, as all the boys there will like Jonah. He gazes at her with trusting incomprehension and he remains impassive, as she asks if they would rather go home. Paps is waiting for them in the window, when they roll back at dusk and Jonah slips away and contemplates going to see Dustin, but can't see any light from his house. 

Winter sets in and the remote house is covered in snow. As Manny and Joel have found some booze and cigarettes, Jonah feels they have grown up and left him behind. They sneak out at night and go to the weir to smoke and drink and threaten to push Jonah into the rushing water. He steals their bag and hides out with Dustin, who protects him when Manny and Joel come looking for him. As he has found a roll of banknotes in the bag, he asks Dustin if they can go to Philadelphia together to find his mother and, when Dustin agrees, Jonah reaches across to stroke his hair and kiss him. 

Smiling as he hastens home, Jonah climbs in through an upstairs window. However, he notices that his bed has been disturbed and he realises his brothers have found his book. He wanders into the living room to see torn pages bestrewn across the floor and he tries gather them up when Ma kneels beside him and asks if he is okay. Feeling threatened and betrayed, Jonah lashes out at Paps and has to be restrained. 

He vanishes into the world of his drawings and decides he has to leave. As he watches his brothers sleep, he imagines them beckoning him over for a `Body Heat' ritual. But they don't wake and neither does his mother, as Jonah covers her on the sofa with a blanket. Outside, he finds his torn pages in a bin and clutches them to his chest, as he turns for a last look at the house and we see his shadow on the snow, as he soars above the treetops to embark upon a new beginning.

There's nothing particularly remarkable about Jonah's story. His brothers take after their macho Latino father, while he relates more closely to his mother's sensitivity. But, while his first steps towards adolescence are no different from those taken by thousands of 10 year-olds the world over, the way in which his coming of age is captured is quite mesmerising. Much credit should go to production designer Katie Hickman for creating a milieu that seems at once comforting and daunting, while editors Keiko Deguchi and Brian A. Kates bring the rhythms of childhood exuberance and trepidation to Zak Mulligan's grainy handheld imagery. This is complemented by Mark Samsonovich's scratchy pencil drawings, which are frequently animated to the melancholic strains of Nick Zammuto's score to convey the soaring heights and dreaded depths of Jonah's imagination. 

Scripting with Daniel Kitrosser, Zagar taps into the poetry of Torres's prose. But the form trumps content throughout, as Zagar so immerses the audience in Jonah's perspective that he even allows him to tilt the camera at one point, so that we are left in no doubt whose experience we are viewing. Newcomer Evan Rosado excels as the wide-eyed junior member of a family he adores, without always understanding. Wherever he fixes his gaze, he does so with a quizzical gravitas that is both adorable and saddening, as it's clear he is slowly reaching the conclusion that he doesn't belong with his nearest and dearest. 

Isaiah Kristian and Josiah Gabriel are boisterously feral, as they struggle to make sense of Raúl Castillo and Sheila Vand's amorous antics and combustible mood swings. But this episodic elegy belongs to Rosado and his innovative director, who shot the final scenes five months after the main shoot wrapped in order to suggest the imperceptible first step towards maturity. Yet, for all his audiovisual ingenuity, Zagar relies too heavily on the flights of fancy to nail the emotional reality of Jonah's journey.

There haven't been many husband-and-wife directorial teams. Jacques Demy and Agnès Varda were married, but didn't work together. Neither did James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow, while Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta's active collaboration was somewhat brief, Among the handful of couples currently making fictional features are Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, and Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, while DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus and Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini are among the hitched documentarists. 

Having served as a producer on Colombian husband Ciro Guerra's first three features, Wandering Shadows (2004), The Wind Journeys (2009) and the Oscar-nominated Embrace of the Serpent (2015), Cristina Gallego joins him behind the camera for Birds of Passage, a fact-based chronicle of the rise of the drug trade in the northern desert region of Guajira during the period between the late 1960s and the mid-1980s that is known as `La Bonanza Marimbera'. Markedly different from the likes of Andrea Di Stefano's Escobar: Paradise Lost (2014) and Fernando León de Aranoa's Loving Pablo (2017), which centred on the cartel wars in Medellín, this is family saga that feels as though The Sopranos had been reinvented by a committee comprising Francis Ford Coppola, Brian De Palma, Sergio Leone and Alejandro Jodorowsky. 

According to Wayúu custom, a young woman approaching marriageable age has to remain in confinement for a year and devote herself to needlework. On her emergence, she participates in a courtship ritual known as the `yonna', in which she chases prospective suitors around a circle and attempts to trip him over in a bid to assess his worthiness. Encouraged not to be nervous by her mother, Úrsula Pushaina (Carmiña Martínez), Zaida (Natalia Reyes) emerges into the Guajiran sunlight with her face painted and her red cloak billowing. 

A young boy in an elaborate headdress falls quickly, as Zaida swoops over him. But Rapayet Uliana (José Acosta) is made of sterner stuff and he passes the test to the satisfaction of his uncle, Peregrino (Jose Vicente Cotes). As the Pushainas are a prominent family, however, Rapayet has his work cut out in convincing Úrsula that he is suitable for her daughter and can satisfy her dowry demands. In addressing the elders, Peregrino accepts that the Ulianas are poor relations by comparison. Yet he pleads his case eloquently and reveals that he is a shrewd businessman, who has established good connections with the alijunas, or `outsiders'.  

Úrsula is impressed by the fact Rapayet can speak Spanish as well as the local wayuunaiki dialect. But she still demands that he comes up with 30 goats, 20 cows, some decorative mules and five necklaces, two of which have to be made from tuma stones. Moreover, she warns him that she keeps hold of the tribal talisman and will be told by the spirits if he is worthy of Zaida, even if he does manage to meet her material requirements. 

Having set the scene, Guerra and Gallego launch into `Song 1: Wild Grass (1968)', which opens with Rapayet and his alijuna pal, Moisés (Jhon Narváez), selling a case of spirits to some friends of his uncle. While cutting a deal for some coffee, he spot some Americans attached to the Peace Corps mission striving to turn the people against Communism and learns that they are also looking for a cheap source of marijuana. Trekking into the mountains with Moisés, Rapayet reaches an agreement with his cousins, Anibal (Juan Bautista Martínez) and Gabriel (Joaquín Ramón), to sell weed to the Americans and they even contribute a couple of necklaces towards his dowry. 

Úrsula scarcely conceals her annoyance when Rapayet meets her terms, but Zaida seems intrigued by her suitor. A singing shepherd (Sergio Coen) warns Rapayet that paying a dowry is the easy part and that he will find it harder keeping his family together. But, when Moisés comes to serenade his new godson, Miguel, all seems well with the newlyweds at the start of `Song II: The Graves (1971)'. Úrsula looks down her nose when Moisés presents Rapayet with a truck and they fire guns into the night to celebrate the fact that they are going to scale up their business and make a killing. 

However, Moisés quickly gets ideas above his station and bursts into a family funeral to inform Rapayet that their US contacts, Peter (Sebastian Celis) and Bill (Dennis Klein), want to increase the size of their consignments. But Rapayet insists on remaining loyal to Anibal rather than bringing in outside growers and reminds Moisés that he is in charge. When they next rendezvous with Bill's oppos, it becomes clear that he has started dealing with Raphayet's rivals and Moisés shoots two of the Americans out of pique. Rapayet has them buried inside their broken up planes and returns to the village to be warned by the elders that he has to sever ties with the alijuna because family must always come first. 

Accompanied by Peregrino, Rapayet interrupts a party that Moisés is throwing and stands in silence while his uncle delivers the clan verdict. But Moisés feels betrayed by his brother and pleads with him not to cut him adrift. However, after Moisés ambushes Anibal's men and steals their weed and money, Rapayet has no option but to kill him and he returns to the village just after Zaida has given birth to their daughter, Indira. Úrsula urges him to show Anibal that he has avenged his kinsmen. But, while he accepts that his honour has been upheld, Anibal tells Úrsula and Peregrino that he wants a larger percentage of the profits and Rapayet has no option but to agree. 

By the opening of `Song III: Prosperity (1979)', transactions are completed under the gaze of armed guards from an imposing stockade. But success has had a deleterious effect on Úrsula's son, Leonidas (Greider Meza), who drunkenly brandishes a gun during a horse race in which Miguel (José Naider) is competing and feels humiliated when his mother slaps his face in front of the entire clan. Shortly afterwards, he appears in a dream in which Zaida is visited by the spirits of Gabriel and her grandmother, who warns her that Miguel is in danger. She asks Úrsula to invoke the talisman's protection and she advises her son-in-law against accepting Anibal's invitation to attend a second wake for his murdered brother. 

Peregrino claims it would be perceived as a slur if they didn't go and they pay their respects. While Gabriel's skeleton is being exhumed, however, Leonidas takes a shine to Victoria (Luisa Alfaro) and reacts angrily to her spurning his attention by forcing one of her bodyguards to eat faeces. Anibal is enraged by the insult and demands that Leonidas works in his fields as a peasant for two weeks in order to atone. Úrsula thinks the punishment is too severe, but Peregrino is eager to avoid an internecine feud and Rapayet orders Leonidas to go with Anibal's henchman, even though he is offended that he has sent an alijuna henchman (Miguel Viera) to make the demand rather than doing it in person. 

When he refuses to apologise to Victoria, Leonidas is set to work. But Úrsula is concerned that she has stopped having premonitions. Yet, while watching Zaida and Indira (Aslenis Márquez) sleeping, she feels uneasy and tells Rapayet that there will be trouble unless Leonidas comes home. Her words come true, at the outset of `Song IV: The War (1980)', after her son rapes Victoria and flees through the jungle back to the family stronghold. Anibal kills Peregrino when he comes as `word messenger' to offer the whole of Rapayet's empire to avoid bloodshed and his nephew is dismayed by this flagrant breach of Wayúu tradition.

Zaida wants Rapayet to flee to protect his children, but Úrsula demands vengeance and the elders of the neighbouring clans agree to a brutal reprisal for Peregrino's death. Moreover, she reclaims her daughter and grandchildren and gunpoint and threatens to kill Rapayet if he comes looking for them. But Anibal is so furious at the slaughter of his kinsmen that he enters into an alliance with the Medellín cartels to attack the Pushaina home. Zaida perishes in the onslaught and, as we begin `Song V: Limbo', Úrsula sends Indira to find Leonidas and never return. 

While she hides out with her uncle, Úrsula tries to bargain for Leonidas's life by betraying Rapayet. However, Anibal insists that both must pay for their actions and, having gunned down the unarmed Rapayet, he crosses the arid terrain to find his other quarry. Yet, as the film ends and the shepherd sings his last song of warning about allowing greed to cloud one's judgement, we see Anibal sell Indira three goats and she leads them away, with some difficulty, as a storm threatens to break overhead. 

In their previous collaborations, Guerra and Gallego have examined the impact of outsider interference on aspects of Colombian life and there's no doubt that the American demand for cheap drugs is primarily responsible for tipping relations between the Pushaina and Uliana families into a downward spiral. But it's greed and envy that exacerbates the fraticidal rivalry and, as a consequence, this feels much more like The Godfather (1972) than Blow (2001) in the way it shows tribal traditions and ancient codes of honour crumbling, as simple shacks are replaced by fortresses and mules give way to flashy cars and light aircraft. 

Mother love remains a key factor, however, and Carmiña Martínez is imposingly severe as the matriarch who puts the interests of her own flesh and blood above those of the wider family. Jose Vicente Cotes is equally impressive, as the sagacious uncle whose cool-headed pragmatism is not shared by Jhon Narváez, as the impetuous Moisés, and Miguel Viera, as the alijuna henchman, whose arrival in Anibal's compound reveals the extent to which the Medellín mobs have started to muscle in on the Guajiran trade. But less is required of José Acosta and Natalia Reyes, as the couple whose union upsets the Pushaina-Uliana balance, as Acosta spends much of the time looking pensive as his destiny slips through his fingers and Reyes is pushed into the shadows after her dazzling opening dance. 

Yet their characters remain pivotal to Maria Camila Arias and Jacques Toulemonde Vidal's formulaic, but fascinating story, which is told by Guerra and Gallego with measured poise and the odd moment of magic realist élan. Returning to colour after the dramatic monochrome of Embrace of the Serpent, the co-directors make evocative use of David Gallego's exceptional imagery, with some of the expansive vistas recalling the heyday of the Spaghetti Western. Yet, Angélica Perea's art direction has an almost anthropological authenticity, as the characters retain their customary hammocks, even after building themselves bastions that tower over the parched landscape. They also continue to believe in the harbingery power of birds. Carlos Garcia's sound design reinforces this shifting sense of priorities, while Leonardo Heilblum's score adeptly embraces traditional rhythms and Morricone-inflected modernity to reflect the corrosive effect of external attitudes and temptations on a once contentedly self-contained community.

Since debuting with Japón in 2002, Mexican auteur Carlos Reygadas has been ruffling feathers. Practicing a distinctive brand of slow cinema that bears the influence of Carl Theodor Dreyer, Robert Bresson and Andrei Tarkovsky, he has provoked critics and audiences alike with his intense ideas on love, gender, the landscape and death in such features as Battle in Heaven (2005), Silent Light (2007) and Post Tenebras Lux (2012). Now, after a five-year hiatus, Reygadas returns with Our Time, a remorseless study of marital fidelity, female entitlement and toxic machismo that spirals up to three hours and makes undoubted demands on the viewer. But, while this exercise in extra-fictional neo-realism has irked those unimpressed by the fact that Reygadas has cast his wife and children in key roles, others have recognised the boldness of this courageous bid to examine cinematic truth and celebrate the little details and minor moments that make life worthwhile. 

Juan Díaz (Carlos Reygadas) and Ester Zavela (Natalia López) live on a cattle ranch in Tlaxcala with their children, Juanito (Yago Martinez). Gaspar (Eleazar Reygadas) and Leonora (Rut Reygadas). Younger cousins frolic beside the pond, with the boys having a mud fight, while the girls lounge around chatting in the sun and picking up the pieces of a broken necklace. Eventually, the boys decide to sneak up on the girls in a rubber dinghy and attack them. Meanwhile, an older group of kids drink and smoke dope. Juanito pours beer into Lenora's hair and she forces him to wash it for her in the pond before wandering off alone. One of the other lads asks Juanito what he's looking at, as he watches her disappear. But he merely shrugs. 

Ester is a much better rider than Juan, a poet who enjoys the ranching lifestyle and playing host to his neighbours. He is surprised to hear, however, that Ester is going to Mexico City with American horse-whisperer Phil Russell (Phil Burgers). As they have an open marriage, he is used to her having flings. But the rules are based on honesty and full disclosure and he gets suspicious when Ester Skypes to tell him about a meeting with a website designer and casually mentions that she is going to spend the night at Phil's place to make an early start on work in the morning. 

As the sun rises, a couple of charros ride out in a cart to the bull pen. They notice one of the bulls seems stompingly agitated and flies into a rage when Buddha hits it with his catapult and it charges the cart and goes the mule to death. Juan is shaken by the incident, as the mule was known as `The Ant' and had been one of Ester's favourites. But she seems indifferent when he breaks the news on her return and there is an awkwardness as they walk back to the hacienda and chat with Juanito about leaving for college at the end of the week. When they're alone, Juan asks Ester if anything happened with Phil and suggests she is more spontaneous with her confession next time they meet. However, she insists they merely shared a couple of drunken kisses and Juan is so unconvinced by her explanation that he checks her phone and notes the number of calls to the Gringo.

She texts Phil when she goes with her friend Michelle to see percussionist Gabriela Jiménez performing Gabriela Ortiz's`Concerto Voltaje for Timpani and Orchestra'. The conductor mentions that Juan is one of his oldest friends in announcing that he has just won a major Canadian poetry prize. But Ester is still floating on air after her tryst with Phil and the pounding music reflects the excitement she feels at the sheer physicality of their fling. As she drives back to the ranch the next day, she thinks back to their coupling as she listens to `The Carpet Crawlers' by Genesis on the car stereo. Meanwhile, Juan is out on the range with Lechera and is troubled by the fact that his horse, Rabozo, seems disturbed by something in the air. 

Ester reaches home just as the first rainfall in weeks begins to hammer down and she is amused by Juan riding along in a waterproof poncho to prove what a man he is. She cooks supper and Juan agrees to read Gaspae and Leonora a bedtime story. However, he uses the search for a book to check his wife's phone and discovers she has been lying about how she spent her day. Having confided in Juanito that he misses him when he's at school, Juan confronts Ester about her dalliance and she insists she is trying to get her head around the situation and was waiting for things to settle before making a clean breast. They hug out of shot, but Ester is irritated by Juan's possessive jealousy and they squabble about her lack of communication and his attempts to control her life. 

The following morning, the charros round up the cows for breeding on the rain-sodden range. Water splashes up as the hooves gallop through the puddles. But Juan and Ester remain mired, as he hovers outside the shower to ask her why she is finding it so difficult to be honest about her actions. He feels she is in the wrong because she has resorted to secrecy, while she is tired of being berated when she was trying to handle things in her own way to avoid any unnecessary heartache. 

As the camera fixes on closed door of the hacienda, Leonora assumes narration duties, as Juan wonders what to do next. He realises that what is making Ester unhappy is being away from Phil and that the best way to protect his marriage is to contact him and try to put the affair on a formal footing that suits everyone. Phil sends Juan an e-mail (which is shown as type appearing on a computer screen), in which he apologises for cuckolding him and admits that he would find it difficult to continue the relationship if Juan was party to their actions and was, in some way, able to influence them. Yet, when he offers to break up with Ester, Juan sends him a phone message (which we hear in Phil's voice) in which he explains that they have to find a way out of the mess that suits them all or the marriage will fall apart because Ester will resent him for interfering or because he will forever feel excluded from something that could be mutually accepted if Phil could play the game on Juan's terms. 

They go out with old friend Santiago (Andrés Loewe), who knows about their marital situation. As they get tipsy, Juan slips him the keys to his hotel room as if giving him his blessing to seduce Ester. However, he creeps up to the room and arranges a standard lamp beside the bed and hides behind a half-open door so he can watch Ester betray him. When they stumble into the room, Santiago closes the blinds, but Juan is still able to see as they strip off and make love. An abrupt cut reveals an audience listening to Juan and a moderator named Isabel at a poetry conference. They are discussing the way words are used in verse. But, when Juan Skypes Ester (with his camera broken), she quickly loses patience when he asks her to lift her top after she had just been telling him how unwell she has been. He reassures her that she will soon be fighting fit and dismisses her reluctance to ride with the bulls as a passing phase. When he continues to witter insensitively, Ester loses her temper and bears her breasts to shame him for being so proprietorial without really caring about her or how she is feeling physically or emotionally. 

While he is flying home (and we see a stunning aerial panorama of the countryside and the cityscape abutting the airport), Ester writes a long letter (which we hear in her voice). She explains that she has always felt guilty for luring Juan away from his ex, Paula, and has striven so hard to please him and make him feel he had made the right choice that she had forgotten about herself. All her energies were devoted to being a wife and mother, especially after they moved to the ranch. 

At the outset, she had misgivings about the move and had felt wretched at being away from her friends and having to learn skills to which she felt little affinity. But she knew this was what he wanted and she mastered her new role, even though it buried her true self deeper in the denial she refused to let herself acknowledge. However, the fling with Phil had reawoken her sense of self and she had realised that she had been suppressing her nature to cling on to a dream that wasn't really hers. Ester admits there had been good times and Juan remains her soulmate. But she now knows that she has to be true to herself and she has doesn't yet know how that might pan out. 

As the plane's wheels hit the runaway, Ester falls silent and the white lines down the centre of the tarmac zip past like an unspooling celluloid strip. A cut fills the screen with Diego Rivera mural, as Juan tries to fathom what is going on and where this is going to end. Ester has an inkling that he has been behind Phil's attempts for them to have some sort of threesome and wants nothing to do with it. But, when Phil comes to the ranch to break some horses and Juan gets tipsy during a soirée, he urges his wife and her lover to slip off to the cabin in the grounds together. 

Naturally, the masochistic Juan follows and he clambers on to the stonework to peer through the window as Ester and Phil together. When they move into the bedroom, he creeps in through the door. But they spot him and he slumps on to the sofa in dismay, as he has seen in Ester's eye the look that she used to give him when they first fell in love and he realises that this is far more serious than a casual affair. Phil implores him to calm down because he thinks they are the best couple he knows, but Ester snaps and hurls a chair at Juan before storming out. When he asks if she is ready to talk, she wrestles him to the floor and they tussle for some time, as Ester's fury gets the better of her. 

As Blanca the maid takes Gaspar and Leonora on cycle ride along a muddy lane, Juan tries to write Ester a note in which he urges her to spend some time away so that she can get her thoughts straight. As Leonora (or is it Gaspar) resumes the narration, Juan goes to see his friend Pablo (Joaquín Del Paso), who has been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. He has decided to drop out, marry his girlfriend and ease the pain by smoking dope. Typically, Juan makes himself the centre of the situation by deciding that he envies Pablo the prospect of dying in the arms of a woman who adores him and the realisation makes him burst into tears at the bedside. When Pablo asks if he is okay, Juan unthinkingly reassures him that it isn't his imminent demise that has upset him, but something personal. 

Around the breakfast table, Juan and Ester attempt to play happy families, as Leonora jokes about her father giving her the advice to beat up bullies. When she hears her mother choke back a sob, she asks if she is crying and Ester fibs that she squirted lemon juice in her eye. Once the kids have left for school, however, she tells Juan that she knows he has been trying to pull the strings and wreck her relationship and she storms past him. Wandering into the kitchen, Juan learns from Blanca that Phil had called to drop off the keys to the truck. 

It's foggy outside and the camera peers through the milky light to see the cattle in the pasture. One of the bulls tries to pick a fight and locks horns with one of its rivals. He keeps manoeuvring his opponent around the field until they reach an escarpment edge. With a fierce shove, the bull sends its foe plummeting to its death and it stands on the precipice, as the sun begins to burn off the mist, and the image fades, with Juan having resumed his alpha status, but at a still unknowable cost. 

Echoes of Michelangelo Antonioni, the Bergmanesque strain of Woody Allen and Nuri Bilge Ceylan reverberate around this protracted and sometimes simplistic account of a complacent bourgeois intellectual coming a cropper when he tries to treat his wife like one of his chattels. There's little reason to sympathise with Juan, who revels in being the padron of his designer fiefdom as much as he enjoys sneering at those who deign to shower him with accolades and fame. Given that he's such a shallow snob, it's tempting to withhold pity from Ester, who helped break up his first marriage and basks in her spouse's reflected glory, while luxuriating in its trappings. But it soon becomes clear that she is just another possession and who is allowed to indulge an illusion of freedom in return to colluding in her gilded-cage entrapment. 

While it's tantalising to speculate about the extent to which Reygadas and López are playing variations on themselves, such auto/meta-fictional musings are largely an irrelevance. Instead, Reygadas invites us to reflect upon the toxic nature of proprietorial matrimony and patriarchal machismo, as Juan seeks to pimp out his wife on his own terms and for his own prurient amusement rather than afford her the freedom to make her own decisions and be treated as an equal partner in the union. Ester's recognition that she is entitled to room and respect coincides with her affair. But it's not her passion for the American interloper that so troubles Juan, it's the realisation that the shackles have been loosened and that he can no longer keep her penned up like a prize breeding cow.

Although neither Reygadas nor López is primarily an actor, they cope creditably with the demands made by the simmering scenario. Ester isn't a particularly well-drawn character and sometimes feels more like a bundle of traits and tics designed to irritate Juan than a real woman. She's also shown to be an inattentive mother, as Reygadas tilts the balance in Juan's favour by making him an indulgent father and a decent boss, even though his duds have a Roy Rogers pristineness and he baulks when Bianca's cousin asks him to sponsor him in a demolition derby. While his class consciousness is exposed as a sham, he also comes across as a manipulative prig who doesn't deserve his son's comparison with Joseph Conrad, who needed rousing out of his complacency in order to create. 

For all the flaws in the characterisation, however, Reygadas provides plenty of material for post-screening for debate, although this is markedly milder in tone than any of his previous outings (gored mules and exploited wives aside). He also works well with new cinematographer Diego Garcia to create some thrilling widescreen vistas, while also using the widescreen frame and off-screen space to emphasise the distance that has arisen between the protagonists. Raúl Locatelli's sound design is also magnificent, whether it's capturing the lowing of the cattle, the rustle of the wind in the high branches or the slush of the standing water in the fields. 

It's easy to see why some critics have dismissed this meandering ménage as self-indulgent, chauvinist and superficial. But this part-epistolary saga has a textual complexity that belies its narrative simplicity, while it often achieves a visual poetry that few of this year's other films can match. It's no masterpiece, but it's not a navel-gazing bore, either. One puzzle does linger, however. Who on earth is the singer in the cut-price Kiss make-up who performs at the climactic house party?