Parallel stories and voyages which have elements (or imprints) of Joseph Conrad and Werner Herzog in them sensitively render subliminal magnetism in Ciro Guerra's Embrace of the Serpent ('El abrazo de la serpiente' in Spanish, German and Portuguese and other native languages with English subtitles).
This Oscar-nominated Columbian film has a perspective of a shaman Karamakarte (played in two different eras - about four decades apart - by Nilbio Torres and Antonio Bolivar) which has a soulful quality of natives and their customs juxtaposed with western colonialism and organized religion proselytizing.
Based on accounts of explorers one of whom died of malaria in the 1920s, Theo (Jan Bijuet) is a German botanist falling ill in 1909 and will reluctantly become ingratiated to Torres' resentful, but later concerned medicine man. A botanical powder will help remedy the situation as a search for a rare yakruna flower with palliative power occurs. Manduca (Yauenku Migue) is Theo's amigo of a hired hand who can get through communication barriers during the upstream paddle.
In this type of wide-scaled drama the shift in treks lets time have a flow to it which augments the resonance of heritage preservation versus westernization (like what the English and French did to the aboriginal groups in Australia and New Zealand).
There's an ominous, unsettling feeling when it comes to being at a place where Karamkarte lost everything due to rubber barons (the hatred and violence incurred by how science can be blinding). An hirsute American (Brionna Davis) also meets up with the physically failing, more understanding Amazonian (Bolivar) whose love of nature and way with natural stimulants becomes more palpable.
Some discerning cineastes may get a grasp of history they thought they knew but really didn't in what insinuates a special harmony and proves quite mystically absorbing. If the unhurried approach may be a tad taxing there is the naturalistic aplomb of the nescient, robust Torres and set-pieces that put the horrors in perspective with the joys of a culture inexorably damaged by German and Spanish industrialists. In particular, recurring scenes of reproduction and at a mission sense the grotesque contrasted with beauty.
Guerra obtains consistent high quality even through his craft contributors. Especially when David Gallego's predominant monochromatic lensing illuminates the images to make this haunting, humanistic Serpent easy to embrace.
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