Festival Review: The Embrace Of The Serpent (2015)

El Abrazo de la Serpiente

A beautiful, haunting monochrome vision of a lost world, Ciro Guerra’s The Embrace Of The Serpent exposes the indigenous peoples at risk from the white man.

Song From The Forest

by Mark Wilshin

The Embrace Of The Serpent

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

A native waits on the shore. A warrior. Almost naked but proud. He’s a Cohiuano and the last of his kind. And the only one who knows the secret of the yakruna flower. A white man approaches. This is the meeting that unfolds twice in a dual narrative in Ciro Guerra’s The Embrace Of The Serpent – as the suspicious indigenous guide Karamakate (Nilbio Torres and Antonio Bolivar) becomes ensnared by the adventurers’ lies. It occurs once in 1909 with anthropologist Theodor (Jan Bijvoet) and again in 1940 with botanist Richard (Brionne Davis) – both loosely based on real people (Koch-Grünberg and Evans Schultes respectively), whose writings are now the only witnesses to this lost world. They’re not the brutal, profiteering rubber barons, but still they come with promises of friendship and protection – Theodor so determined to leave only footprints behind that he tries desperately to regain his stolen compass, so that the natives won’t change their methods of navigating by the stars – while hiding their true intentions of taking the plant away with them in order to extract the purest rubber. Beautifully shot in black and white, El Abrazo de la Serpiente invites us into a dazzling lyrical, symbolic vision – in which the indigenous peoples are metamorphosed into a leopard that kills the treacherous white snake. A retrospective tale of vengeance, the continuity of tradition and the far reaches of western learning, The Embrace Of The Serpent powerfully recreates the impressions of a world now disappeared and the fractious relationship between those who live in the rainforest and the scheming colonisers. It’s a complete cosmos of shamans, hallucinogens, animal gods and heavenly constellations, and intelligent filmmaking at its most sublime.

The Embrace Of The Serpent is now showing at the London Film Festival

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