Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Movie with Abe: Embrace of the Serpent

Embrace of the Serpent
Directed by Ciro Guerra
Released February 17, 2015

Conquering nations have not been known for their kind treatment of native peoples. Civilizations of immigrants all across the world have sprung up and become the defining people of the land, yet there are Native Americans, First Natives, and so many other groups that have lost claim to their possessions and their territories, and only in some cases have they received belated reparations. “Embrace of the Serpent” tells the story of two white men who embarked on quests to find a mythical sacred plant with the same Amazonian shaman who rightfully suspects their true intentions.

“Embrace of the Serpent” begins in stark black and white, presenting two simultaneous stories. In 1909, German scientist Theodor Koch-Grunberg (Jan Bijvoet) arrives in the Amazon searching for the yakruna plant and begins an expedition with a young Karamakate (Nilbio Torres), who is wary of working with him because of what he has seen of white people. In 1940, a much older and wiser Karamakate (Antonio Bolivar) meets American Richard Evans Schultes (Brionne Davis), who is also seeking the yakruna. These two parallel plotlines unfold together and are intertwined in a way that makes them seem timeless and undivided.

There are many connections between the two expeditions. Karamakate chastises both foreigners for their material attachments, particularly Theodor’s books and letters to his wife. When a compass is taken by an indigenous tribe, Karamakate is furious that a white man would try to tell anyone that they can learn even though the intention is to ensure that they do not lose their ability to navigate without technology. The cultural dynamics, including an untrusting priest who greets visitors with a raised shotgun because he believes them to be rubber barons, are immensely interesting and well-explored.

Though its content, particularly its construction of a narrative based on the writings of two travelers from different time periods with no one to corroborate their stories, is appealing, this film’s pacing leaves much to be desired. Clocking in at over two hours, it takes plenty of time to slowly reach its more intriguing moments. Colombia’s Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film is undeniably a creative international showcase, but it is far from the most invigorating or involving film of the year. Its black and white style matches its vintage nature – a fascinating portrait of a lost culture that takes some time to come to life.


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