Embrace of the Serpent-2015
Starring-Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolivar
Scott’s Review #524
Reviewed November 23, 2016
Embrace of the Serpent is a cerebral experience in the art of complex storytelling, weaving two parallel stories set forty years apart from each other. It is an immensely creative film crafting a black and white cinematic expressionism into its lurid walls. Admittedly I found the stories tough to follow at times, and the film contains an impressionistic quality, but I knew I was watching something creative and brave and that is worthy of a hefty thumbs up.
The setting of the film is the Amazon jungle, along the vast Amazon river, deep in the heart of South America. The time periods are both 1909 and 1940, and both feature an Amazonian shaman who is the very last of his people and very resentful of white men. In 1909, he travels with a dying German scientist and in 1940, an American. Both are looking for a sacred healing plant, which contain magical powers.
The parallel stories both feature a Spanish Catholic Mission by the side of an Amazon tributary. In 1909, the leading priest is sadistic and abusive towards the young boys in his charge. Years later, the young boys are now hardened and grizzled. Both stories also feature the revelation of the plant, though in different ways and with vastly different outcomes.
Worth mentioning as the best part of the film, much better than the story-line, is the effective use of black and white visuals. This gives the film a mysterious, old world type of vibe that is tremendous, and really makes it feel like a film made in the 1940’s, if not earlier. In this way, it makes Embrace of the Serpent a visual spectacle, especially as countless scenes occur along the Amazon- we see the characters float, via canoe, and are treated to the beauty of the water and the surrounding luscious mountains. It appears other-worldly, a part of the remote continent that few must see or appreciate. This is my favorite aspect of the film.
The stories are, indeed, complex, sometimes not making complete sense, and I found myself a bit confused throughout, but this may have been due to the films clear art film persona, leading the film to be open to interpretation. Both white men have different experiences with the sought after plant. I was left with some questions that I still am not sure about even having read the synopsis of the film. One of the men has a dreamy, hallucinating experience with the magical plant, but what happens after this? The shaman is an interesting character as we see him as a young man and as an old man, throughout his life living as a lonely, resentful man.
Embrace of the Serpent is a perplexing, interpretative film, but contains a magical quality and, if the story is muddy, one can whisk away to a fantastic experience just watching and enjoying the cinematic treats being offered. A visual gem.