Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the last Academy Awards ceremony, Embrace of the Serpent is an art-house feature that offers its viewers a journey back in time into the very heart of the Amazon rainforest while painting an absorbing portrait of the indigenous culture that was destroyed by colonial invaders.
The story of Embrace of the Serpent covers two sets of events, one taking place in 1909 while the other occurs in 1940. Both segments concern an Amazonian shaman who happens to be the last of his tribe, and covers his relationship with two scientists who are determined to find a rare sacred plant that has healing properties.
Directed by Ciro Guerra, the film carves a fictional but highly original tale from the real-life accounts of the two scientists whose works have made a valuable contribution to the study of indigenous people of South America. Guerre’s direction is commendable, for he has crafted this tale with elegance and the film as a whole is as thematically rich as it is beautiful to look at.
Shot in exotic locations & captured in black n white, its greyscale photography is actually fitting for the premise as well as the depicted timeline. Also, the lack of colours sort of reflect the loss of life from the region that was once home to many indigenous cultures. The camera is used like a silent observer and remains motionless for the most part, except for a few tracking shots, but it does add a serene vibe to the story.
Editing nicely intertwines the two story lines that are headed in the same direction, but the pace at which it all unfolds will divide its audience as some will appreciate it while others will be frustrated by its glacial speed. The performances from its cast carry no complaints as everyone chips in with fine contribution in their given roles, but the best input comes from the two actors who play the same character in different segments.
On an overall scale, Embrace of the Serpent is deeply meditative in content but it isn’t a film for all. There is clearly a certain section of filmgoing audience that it is aimed at plus it caters well to their needs but for me, this Columbian flick was more or less a stationary experience that never shifted gears throughout its runtime. But I don’t despise it either. All in all, Embrace of the Serpent is worth a shot but it may strike a better chord with art-house enthusiasts.