For Reel

Embrace of the Serpent (2015)
May 25, 2016, 5:52 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Ciro Guerra
4.5 Stars
Embrace of the SerpentThis immersive drama teeters splendidly on the border between historical fiction and the mythical, having interest in both ethnographic concerns and the explicitly poetic. The title sequence informs the audience how to watch the film—vague images of a serpent devouring another serve to be read as metaphors, capturing something of the primacy and violence of the narrative. Embrace of the Serpent connects two journeys in which white men seek a mythical psychedelic plant that is said to cure diseases. They are guided by the same man three decades apart—in the earlier sequence, he’s an impressive physical specimen, stubborn and entirely resistant to the colonialist threat. As an old man, he mourns that he’s become a chullachaqui, an oft-repeated word that refers to a spirit who walks aimlessly through the world (which will later be related to photography, ironically suggesting that the historical ethnographic impulse has actually accelerated the death of a way of life). The film works as an adventure reminiscent of Apocalypse Now or Aguirre, the Wrath of God, but occasionally its dalliances with the surreal outreach even those films—in one setpiece involving a drug-induced messiah figure, the picture becomes positively Buñuelian. If director Ciro Guerra doesn’t stifle his interest in making explicit what the audience could have gathered themselves, his visual strategy does just the opposite in letting the viewer see only what the characters can: boats arrive from behind the trees, figures are seen staring out at the river from within the jungle, and so on. It is an irresistible style, and the Amazonian setting has a rapturous, transportative appeal.

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