Embrace of the Serpent (12A)

Embrace of the Serpent (12A)

Directed by Ciro Guerra
Picturehouse, Liverpool
10th – 16th June 2016

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

This is a very mystical film of a Colombian Amazonian shaman, shot in the jungles of Vaupes in Colombia.

Karamakate is the last remaining member of his Amazonian tribe. He encounters two European ethnographers decades apart, who are both in search of the sacred medicinal and psychedelic Yakrun plant. The younger Karamakate is played by Nilbio Torres and the elder Antonio Bolivia Salvador.

He meets up with Theodor Koch-Grunberg in 1909 and then Richard Evans Schultes in the 1940s.

The shaman is puzzled why these white men cling onto their possessions, even though they are travelling through potentially hostile territory, both from nature itself and various tribes people.

But there is a very valid reason why the two explorers are devoted to what they are carrying. Within their boxes are diaries, drawings and photographs documenting their expeditions, and these are the last remaining records of an Amazonian native civilisation after the Colombians from the towns and cities brought havoc and destruction to many people, in their pursuit of rubber, symbolishing the long-term fixation of exploiting indigenous peoples.

Director Ciro Guerra commented that the film “has no anthropological value whatsoever. What you see in the film is not the Amazon. It’s an imagined Amazon because the real Amazon does not fit into one film. It does not fit into a thousand films.”

The power and magic of Embrace of the Serpent are greatly enhanced by the rich and dense use of monochrome throughout, except for an unnecessary use of colour towards the end.

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