Embrace of the Serpent follows two scientists, one in 1909 and the other in 1940, on a transcendent journey through the Amazon to find a sacred healing plant.
The film stars Jan Bijvoet as Theo, a sickly scientist who enlists the help of the tribesman Karamakate (Nilbio Torres), to help him find the sacred healing yakruna plant in order to save himself from certain death. Fast forward thirty-odd years where yet another scientist Evan (Brionne Davis), who’s also on the same mission, enlists the help of a now much older Karamakate to find the elusive plant. On the way, both scientists are awoken to self-awareness through lessons of ancient tribal spirituality, all while facing the all-too-real atrocities taking place in the native land during those periods.
The character of Karamakate, who is the binding agent of this story is very well written and superbly portrayed, in both the young version by Nilbio Torres and the older version by Antonio Bolivar. The character, who is the last of his tribe, now walks alone and the actors really add a depth to the character, showing the pain and suffering he’s gone (and is going) through, while at the same time remaining strong and proud. Jan Bijvoet and Brionne Davis are both also excellent in their roles as the inquisitive scientists, who are often respectful to the native people and the lands they inhabit.
Director Ciro Guerra does a great job in including the audience on the journey with the characters, with a style that draws you in as if you’re there with them observing each scene. He may have achieved that with his raw, but very cinematic shooting style, all in black-and-white. The way the film is shot, it appears as if the director has tried to mimic the look and feel of the picture to match how it may have looked if it were shot back in the periods the film’s based in – and it works well.
Embrace of the Serpent is the type of film that requires a patient audience. It may not be very entertaining in the classic sense, especially in comparison to other ‘adventure’ genre films, but it’s a film that should be appreciated as a total cinematic experience and is one that will stay with you long after you’ve seen it. In those respects, it hits the mark.
First Colombian film nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.