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Worth Embracing: Oscar Nominee ‘Embrace Of The Serpent’

Worth Embracing: Oscar Nominee ‘Embrace Of The Serpent’

Movies can educate, stimulate and provoke us; they can also
take us places we have never been. That is the marvel of Embrace of the Serpent, which transports us to the Columbian Amazon
to share two separate but related experiences forty years apart. Filmmaker Ciro
Guerra based his script on the diaries of two white explorers who venture into
unknown territory and attempt to befriend—and in some ways exploit—a shaman
warrior while searching for a rare plant that is said to have great healing
powers.

         By shooting in
widescreen black & white, Guerra and cinematographer David Gallego move their
story one step away from contemporary reality, which is appropriate for a film
that traffics in surreal and psychedelic imagery. The two white men who seek
help from the natives along the river are quite different: a Dutch man who is
desperately ill when he meets the shaman, Karamakate, in 1909, and an American
in the 1940s whose motives are not nearly as pure. Like everyone else who
represents Western civilization, they wreak havoc on the culture of Colombia
and its many tribes. The one link between them is Karamakate and the secret he
protects.

         Guerra has
explained, “There’s an idea in many of the texts that explores the indigenous
world that speaks of a different concept of time. Time to them is not a line,
as we see it in the West, but a series of multiple universes happening
simultaneously. It is a concept that has been referred to as ‘time without
time’ or ‘space without space.’

         “I thought it
connected with the stories of the explorers, who wrote about how one of them
came to the Amazon following the footsteps of another explorer before him, and
when he would encounter the same indigenous tribe, he would find that the
previous explorer had been turned into myth. To the natives, it was always the
same man, the same spirit, visiting them over and over again. This idea of a
single life, a single experience, lived through the bodies of several men, was
fascinating for me, and I thought it would make a great starting point for the
script.” Guerra collaborated on the screenplay with Jacques Toulemonde.

         Embrace of the Serpent is slowly paced
but it’s as elegant as it is eloquent. The film celebrates life along the
Amazon and condemns those who sullied it, whether for profit or to propagate a
religious ideal. Perhaps its greatest achievement is that it makes us forget we
are watching a movie: we become so immersed in its exotic environment that it
doesn’t seem possible a camera crew could be standing nearby documenting what
we see. Yet another worthy Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, this
one deserves to be seen on a theater screen.

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