Both a tale of discovery and justice; Embrace of the Serpent tells the story of Karamakate (Nilbio Torres, and Antonio Bolivar), an Amazonian Shamen living alone, the last of his people, who over 40 years helps two western explorers find both their dreams, and their end, as they search for the same healing plant they believe to be the solution to their suffering. Karamakate, depicted as both young and old repeats the same path on this lumbering but beautiful journey as this ethnographic tale of colonialism portrays the truth of a politically divided Columbia.
Based on the diaries of Theodor Kock-Grunberg and Richard Evans Schultes, who are both portrayed in this film, Ciro Guerra delivers a psychedelic and emotional film filled with hatred, love and respect in equal measure. Guerra injects no pace into the film, and whether this is an attempt to create realism or not it will divide audiences on whether Embrace of the Serpent is an artful a masterpiece, or a bit of a bore. It’s not that this is a boring film and that very little happens. In fact the opposite is true, with interesting action and incredible dialogue this has everything to be an incredibly exciting film. It’s just that the slow transitions and the thoughtfulness of the dialogue, much like the slow cinema of Tsai Ming-Liang though on a much smaller scale create a sluggishness that in some respects adds to its beauty but also detracts from the event.
The stars of Embrace of the Serpent are spectacular. The five main stars excel in their roles, with Nilbio Torres’ portrayal of young Karamakate particularly exciting, each actor captures their character well. Their motivation and vastly polar political and moral views are stark and obvious which helps to create a constant tension despite their co-operation which is the lifeblood of this film.
Ultimately, this kind of cinema isn’t for everyone and while I might not give Embrace of the Serpent and immediate re-watch, and I won’t be recommending it on my blockbuster hit list, I’m glad to have seen it. If you love art, politics or the study of people and cultures, then this film is definitely for you and I’d be rushing to get yourself a copy.
You can see the trailer below!
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