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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

EL ABRAZO DE LA SERPIENTE / EMBRACE OF THE SERPENT (2015)

Fascinating, and phenomenally effective, a culture clash in the Amazon Jungle inspired by the diaries of two European researchers who came to the forest decades apart, helped by the same Native shaman. Columbian writer/director Ciro Guerra structures the film in parallel paths 40 years apart, cutting back & forth without confusion between early and mid-20th century action. The earlier sequences begin as a desperately ill German explorer (and his native guide, rescued from the horrors of rubber plantation work) seek out young shaman Karamakate in hopes of finding a cure. Believing himself the last of his tribe and living in isolation, Karamakate can only offer temporary relief, but agrees to go with them to find a special plant & permanent cure when told that members of his tribe still exist far up the river. Intercut with this journey, another European researcher comes to find the healing plant that may (or may not) have been found 40 years ago. Remarkably, he’s helped by the same shaman, still isolated, now forty years older and with a fragile memory. Two journeys, equally thrilling & mysterious, Tribal in outlook rather than Euro-Centric. Amid the wonder & terror, a pair of encounters across the decades with hidden Christian societies are particular standouts, both harrowing cinematic achievements and conceptually challenging. Eventually, when the medicine is found, Guerra switches from the film’s rapturous WideScreen monochrome*to indulge in a bit of ‘60s psychedelia, a Light Show display that’s a little too 2001: Jupiter and Beyond for its own good, but you’ll be too far gone to take exception. Riveting stuff that puts the kibosh on many a better known film covering similar subjects. Oscar® nominated for Foreign Language pic, rightly so.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Photographers have largely made peace with digital formats, but still swear by old-fashioned chemical processing & celluloid film stock for Black & White. See why here.

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