“Embrace of the Serpent” Review ✦✦✦✦✦

7 July, 2016

Director: Ciro Guerra
Screenwriters: Ciro Guerra, Jacques Toulemonde Vidal
Director of Photography: David Gallego
Cast: Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet 

Synopsis: Within the depths of the Amazon lives Karamakate, an unwitting guide and educator for passing travellers and the sole survivor of a massacre that wiped out his entire tribe. Left to rot by greedy rubber barons, the outcast native becomes a doorway into the sour history of the region as he is left to suffer as the widower of his people.

Embrace of the Serpent Review:

As a story that rejects the boundaries set by our knowledge and experience in the First World, “Embrace of the Serpent is an innately exotic and spiritual tale captured within the landscape of a repugnant part of history. While many of the movie’s gorgeous black-and-white shots and on-location rainforest mixes are crucial in creating an atmosphere, it’s the fascinating parallel stories that turn Ciro Guerra’s meditative movie into an account that’s more than just skin deep.

It’s through Karamakate’s spiritual teachings that we first begin to understand the patience that the shaman must possess when self-centred explorers come traipsing through his homeland looking for his help and guidance. The travellers cling to science and materialism, indifferent towards the bloodbath that surrounds them, and Karamakate must look past their unfamiliarity with his territory if he wishes to break down the barriers separating them. Unfortunately for those native to the region, the foreigners’ frequent rejection of local culture aids in fabricating false tales of savagery and cannibalism which come to stain the land with the lies of biased settlers.

Guerra takes great care in detailing the cultural misunderstandings as he shows Amazonian history being slowly eradicated by religious outsiders who brainwash orphans into believing that their very nature is immoral. In an agonising twist of fate, Karamakate can only stand back and watch as the children grow up to adopt the same barbarous manner as the men who slaughtered their families. It’s an endless cycle and a chilling juxtaposition that extends over three decades as the film flits between 1909 and 1940 in order to thoroughly demonstrate the depth of Karamakate’s pain and judgement in the face of the white men who seek out his skills and expertise.

“Embrace of the Serpent” is an intelligent and enlightening experience and it’s made for viewers who are willing to face up to the dark history of the world we live in. As important as ideology has been in encouraging the process of human advancement and development, it has blinded many into thinking that violence can be justified in certain contexts, or that it’s okay to destroy those who are less advanced or seemingly primitive in their manner of being. Ciro Guerra ensures that we see the real truth behind all existence as he crafts a compassionate movie out of something completely barbaric.


Review Date
Embrace of the Serpent