A period drama like no other, Embrace of the Serpent explores the experience of both would-be Amazonian colonists and the people upon whom they trespass in a gripping, psychedelic saga, shot in crisp monochrome.
A native Colombian, dressed in 18th century Western clothing, steers a boat silently through dense forest. In the boat lies Dutch explorer Theodor von Martins, wasting away with a disease curable only by an illusory, mystical plant, yakuna. The only man who still knows where to find it is a shaman, Karamakate. When he agrees, with some reluctance, to help them, the three travel along the river into the past, present – and a distorted image of the future.
Visionary filmmaker Ciro Guerra leads his audience on a journey that is at once deeply spiritual and historically candid. Embrace of the Serpent’s journey leaps from the Dutchman’s struggle for survival to an American botanist following, years later, in his predecessor’s footsteps.
As the two plots snake between one another, they build a disturbing and complex picture of the Amazon’s cultural pollution by Western imperialism. Misunderstanding is the currency here, of the most fundamental kind, as one man’s preoccupation becomes another’s source of ridicule and confusion.
The narrative lilts and lurches and at the crux, a crucifix: the cultures collide in a hellish fusion of paganism and Catholicism. This, as Karamakate puts it, is “the worst of both worlds” – and with a crescendo that reaches the heights of Apocalypse Now, Embrace of the Serpent mushrooms into a cloud of epiphanic doom. As the forest slowly asphyxiates its Western trespassers, so do they its rubber trees and indigenous cultures.
The detailed monochrome and eerie soundtrack give the whole thing an air of timelessness. There’s nothing primitive about Embrace of the Serpent, nor the people it depicts – no hackneyed rehashing of the Last of the Mohicans here, Guerra’s film looks honestly and uncompromisingly at the bloody histories buried within the Amazon rainforest. Son of Saul may have won the Oscar for Best Foreign Picture, but Embrace of the Serpent too is a lost scroll, hidden beneath Colombia’s blood-spattered rubber trees.
|What||Embrace of the Serpent film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
10 Jun 16 – 31 Jul 16, 12:00 PM – 12:00 AM
|Website||Click here to go to the Embrace of the Serpent IMDB page|