DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (EL ABRAZO DE LA SERPIENTE) (director/writer: Ciro Guerra; screenwriters: Jacques Toulemonde Vidal /based on the diaries by Theodor Koch-Grunberg & Richard Evans Schultes; cinematographer: David Gallego; editor: Etienne Boussac; music:  Nascuy Linares; cast: Jan Bijvoet (Theodor Koch-Grunberg), Brionne Davis (Richard Evans Schultes), Antonio Bolivar (Karamakate, old), Nilbio Torres (Karamakate, young), Miguel Dionisio Ramos (), Nicolás Cancino (Anizetto), Yauenku Migue (Manduca); Runtime: 125; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Cristina Gallego; Oscilloscope Labratory; 2015-Colombia/ Venezuela/Argentina-in Spanish, Portuguese, German, Catalan, Latin-with English subtitles)

"A stunning visual and a culturally informative film."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The talented Colombian writer-director Ciro Guerra ("The Wild Journeys"/"La Sombra del Caminante") helms a stunning visual and a culturally informative film. It tells us about the wrong-doings occurring during colonialism in South America by the exploiters, and offers us a rare chance to get some insight into the Amazon culture and their thinking process. The message sent about the jungle expeditions is about the value of preserving our natural environment and the fragile balance in place between nature and man that is rapidly deteriorating.

The exciting adventure film was inspired by the real-life journals of two explorers--the earlier German, Theodor Koch-Grünberg (Jan Bijvoet), and the later American, Richard Evan Schultes (Brionne Davis). They traveled through the Colombian Amazon during the last century, but 40 years apart, and were both amazed at how wide is the gulf between their Western culture from the indigenous Amazon one. Dreams are more important in the Amazon culture than in ours. We observe how they use hallucinogens as a mind-expanding drug to connect them with their inner self, nature and their dreams. The filmmaker looks at how the West colonizers exploited the Amazon for its resources of rubber, while the natives were more interested in the psychedelics.

Both expeditions are linked to having the same guide, shaman Karamakate, who accompanies both to search for the sacred and difficult-to-find psychedelic Yakruna plant. A plant noted by mystics because of its great healing powers.

Guerra earned the Top Director prize at Cannes for this rewarding film, one that is so right on in its context as a spiritual journey (despite a few scenes depicting religious insanity and sadism) and for its fine technical achievements of filming it in a crisp black and white. Its visuals are a high mark in cinematography.

REVIEWED ON 12/8/2015       GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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