Starring: Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet, Antonio Bolivar
The story of Karamakate (Torres and Bolivar), an Amazonian shaman and last survivor of his people, and the two separate encounters he has with two Western scientists. Though the two encounters are nearly 40 years apart, they are both with the same intention; to search for a rare, sacred healing plant.
As an audio and visual medium, film can of course be such a unique and wondrous thing that can do things that no other art form can. It can sometimes produce a rich and involving experience that is almost impossible to describe in words, as it can produce so many emotions and ideas. Embrace of the Serpent is a film that does this; Ciro Guerra’s film is not only a visually and emotionally immersive experience that examines many poignant themes with a subtle intelligence, but it also one of the most unique and unforgettable cinematic experiences of 2016.
Embrace of the Serpent is a film of such depth that is likely to be a unique experience to each individual, and also one of those films where the more you put into it, the more you will be infinitely rewarded. This is a film that encompasses so many themes and ideas, and it does so in an especially subtle way, only serving to make it more engaging and rewarding as a viewing experience.
This is a perfect example of a filmmaker having a clear and uncompromising vision of the film they want to make, and Ciro Guerra’s film may not appeal to all, but those willing to invest in its dual narrative structure and the ideas and themes that both explore will be infinitely rewarded.
Though based on the writings of the two explorers that Karamakate guides in the two stories, the film is essentially told from his point of view, and one of the key themes of both stories is how Western society has used the natural resource of the Amazonian rainforest without showing any care for both it and those that have it as their natural habitat, whether that be humans or animals. This idea is however never expressed in a preachy or patronising way, but in a very subtle and effective way by both the actions of the characters and what they experience on their unique journeys.
However, there is far more to Embrace of the Serpent than this, as it explores themes of cultural identity and its vital importance in many ways, whether this be the oppression of religion or the dreams that both the two explorers and Karamakate share. Some things are left to the interpretation of the viewer, and this only serves to make Embrace of the Serpent even more rewarding.
Visually, Embrace of the Serpent is also a luscious and immersive experience; the Amazonian jungle of course is a beautiful setting that is filled with many colours, and so the decision to film this in monochrome may disappoint some, but Guerra’s camerawork and David Gallego’s cinematography make sure that the film is still visually immersive, and the monochrome colours in some way serve to only reiterate the narrative’s core themes.
The performances are also excellent; both Nilbio Torres and Antonio Bolivar deliver understated and commanding performances as the respectively young and old Karamakate. These two superb performances play a crucial role in our emotional engagement with the dual narratives and the ideas and themes that unite them. While his character is also responsible for many of the film’s more humorous moments; these are often caused by the culture clash of the main characters, and add yet another human element to the film.
As the dual narratives take place, Embrace of the Serpent is never anything less than deeply engaging, and both reach a satisfactory conclusion, and there are so many elements that mean that Embrace of the Serpent is a film that will yield even more rewards with repeat viewings.
One of the most unique and rewarding film experiences of 2016; Embrace of the Serpent is a film that utilises all the variables available to a filmmaker, and the result is an immersive film of deep intelligence and ideas that will linger long in the memory.