Review: ‘Embrace Of The Serpent’
How I missed this in cinemas is mystifying but I won’t forgive myself for not seeing it in the big screen; a transcendent, elegiac masterpiece directed by Ciro Guerra that feels like a bookend to ‘Heart Of Darkness’. ‘Embrace of the Serpent’ plots the parallel journeys of two pairs, each a European explorer and a local shaman, in two different timeframes, heading deep into the Amazon.
What both Western men find is a belief system so alien to their own that it has caused an unbridgeable divide – between colonial plunderers, crazed Christians and tribes facing decimation for profit. This isn’t a 21st century story but one based on the diaries of the Dutch explorer Theodor von Martins, who wrote of the Colombian Amazon in 1909 and provided the only known account of now-lost tribes.
By turns mesmeric, hallucinogenic, eerie, horrific, charming and beautiful, the luminous monochrome photography recalls the work of old ethnographic photographers. The journeys, separated by 30 years, dovetail in understandings tempered by a tacit acknowledgement that nature and man cannot peacefully co-exist. The message is that in between the lies told by both sides there were once dreams that could save us.
Surprisingly, the twin spiritual journeys play out like a single epic thriller. As illness and madness strip the explorers of everything they came with, their journeys take them ever deeper into a dark country torn apart by rapacious Columbians in a manner that recalls the Belgian massacres in the Congo, the British in China and the atrocities of the Nixon administration in Vietnam.
The film has garnered a lot of awards as well as being Oscar-nominated for best foreign film, but the funniest review I’ve read is by a punter on Metacritic who said ‘Not only is it the most boring film I’ve ever seen, it’s in BLACK & WHITE!’ I guess the divide still exists between the who would see the world destroyed and those who wish to preserve some of its grace before irreversible loss sets in. This one’s worth picking up on Blu-Ray.