Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Ciro Guerra

Stars: Jan Bijvoet, Yauenku Miguel, Nilbio Torres, Brionne Davis, Antonio Bolivar.
Image result for embrace of the serpent movie images

The second film from South America to hit local cinemas this week, Embrace Of The Serpent is decidedly art house in nature and will not be as readily embraced by audiences as The Second Mother. Winner of eight major Columbian film awards, and the first Columbian film to be nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar, this is a powerful drama set in the Amazon jungle. From Werner Herzog’s stunning Aguirre: The Wrath Of God and John Boorman’s The Emerald Forest, through action adventures like Romancing The Stone to the more risible Anaconda, etc, the Amazon jungle has continued to inspire and fascinate film makers.
Set in two different time frames in the first half of the twentieth century, Embrace Of The Serpent examines the clash of cultures, the destructive influence of colonialism and the impact of religion on indigenous tribes, and gives us some insights into a way of life that has been slowly obliterated.
Embrace Of The Serpent is the third film from writer/director Ciro Guerra (The Wind Journeys, etc) and deals with ambitious themes like first contact between whites and remote tribes, unexpected friendships, trust, betrayal, and misguided Christianity. It also has strong environmental and political undertones.
The film is based upon scientific journals written by German explorer Theodor Koch-Granberg (played here by Belgian actor Jan Bijvoet, from The Broken Circle Breakdown, etc), who traveled up the Amazon in 1909 looking for a fabled plant that had healing properties. His guide was Manduca (Yauenku Miguel). But when Theodor falls sick they enlist the help of Karamakate (Nilbio Torres), a shaman and the last member of his tribe. Thirty years later Karamakate (now played by Antonio Bolivar) accompanies American botanist Richard Evans (Brionne Davis) down the Amazon also in search of the fabled Yakruna plant. Evans relies on Karamakate’s knowledge and early encounter with Theodor to guide him.
In this fictitious reenactment of their journeys, the two men encounter their own heart of darkness as they undergo both a physical and spiritual journey. They battle both the elements and their own personal animosity and fears. Those scenes set in the mission where the travelers briefly stop boasts some impressive production design work from Anjelica Perea, Ramses Benjumea and Alejandro Franco, and enhances the theme of an almost messianic religion at work trying to convert the natives.
The film unfolds in leisurely, almost dreamlike fashion. This moody slow moving drama was shot on location in the jungle regions of Vaupes during a long seven week shoot, and the location work lends an authenticity to the material.  Cinematographer David Gallego has shot the film in lyrical and moody black and white and captures some striking images. It also immerses audiences in this unfamiliar world. This was a deliberate choice from director Guerra who wanted to recreate the photographs from the original explorers. Although one is left to wonder what these spectacular landscapes would have looked like in colour.
Guerra draws remarkable performances from the natives who play the guide Karamakate at different time periods, giving rich and textured performances in their first film appearances.
But despite the gorgeous cinematography, lush location work in an exotic setting, and powerful themes that resonate strongly today, Embrace Of The Serpent is an art house film that will not hold broad appeal to mainstream audiences.


Speak Your Mind