Embrace of the Serpent Review



There are shades of Miguel Gomes’ breathtaking Tabu to Ciro Guerra’s third feature film Embrace of the Serpent. Perhaps it’s just because it’s presented in monochrome and is completely spellbinding – or maybe it’s because it’s a tremendously absorbing affair, and though enchanting in parts and visual striking throughout, the colonialist themes provide a dark edge and indelible sadness to this particular endeavour.

The tale is of two parallels expeditions from Western scientists, roaming the Amazonian landscape for a sacred healing plant. 40 years apart, we delve into the experiences of both ethnographer Theo von Martins (Jan Bijvoet) and then that of botanist Evan (Brionne Davis) – both on a solo mission to discover the whereabouts – and authenticity – of the aforementioned flower. However the one constant which ties their respective journeys together, is Karamakate – depicted in the past by Nilbio Torres, and the future by Antonio Bolivar – a shaman and the very last survivor of his tribe, who accompanies both explorers on their seemingly unavailing endeavours, where the paramount achievement is becoming deeply aware of the oppressive imprint left by colonialism on those who inhabit the rainforest.

As we drift between the two tales of white, Western males invading the homes and land of the local people – albeit naively and with good intentions – it brings a very pointed meaning to this abstract, resourceful piece of filmmaking. The contrasting, yet vividly similar journeys are edited together in a seamless fashion, intelligently crafted and so effortless with it. What transpires is a truly mesmeric title that evokes so many emotions, almost hypnotic in its approach. Though somewhat loose on palpable narrative structure, like a fever dream of sorts, there’s an allurement to this indelible feature, as a more accomplished drama, but nevertheless similar, to the Viggo Mortensen starring Jauja. Guerra must also be commended for being creative and inventive without pretension, which can be a challenge to pull off.

So while the award’s season is well and truly behind us, we are still marvelling at some of the highlights from the nominees, as Embrace of the Serpent was included in the Best Film Not in the English Language category at the Oscars. Fully deserving of such an accolade, we have to thank the Academy, for without such recognition this title may well have struggled to get such a broad international release, no matter how good it may or may not be.