Embrace of The Serpent: A Stunning & Strange Trip That Everyone Should Take at least Once [Review]

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From Oscilloscope and director Ciro Guerra comes Columbia’s first ever nominee for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Embrace of The Serpent. Starring Jan Bijvoet, Nilbio Torres, Brionne Davis, Nicolás Cancino and Miguel Dioniso Ramos, the film was released in select cinemas February 17th.

In the early 1900s, a young shaman (Nilbio Torres) in the Colombian Amazon helps a sick German explorer (Jan Bijvoet) and his local guide (Miguel Dionisio Ramos) search for a rare healing plant.

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Ciro Guerra’s 2016 Oscar contender for Best Foreign Language Film is unlike any other film I’ve seen in a long time. Filmed oldschool and in black and white nonetheless, Embrace of The Serpent is not an easy movie-going experience but it is a gorgeous and captivating one. Every single frame of this Amazonian river adventure made me wish I were there with Karamakate, exploring this vast and beautiful land. But then I quickly remembered why this medicine man was there to begin with and I snapped out of it.

The film takes place in two time periods, 1909 when Karamakate takes a dying German scientist on a journey to find a plant that will cure the ill adventurer and later in 1940 when he takes an American named Evan, to find the same plant – Yakruna. Each storyline interweaves with the other and it does a nice job in doing so, showing us certain events in the past and how they can impact the future in frightening ways. Embrace of The Serpent makes no bones about showing how Western civilization isn’t so civilized when it can impact the native culture in such hostile ways. But by the end of the film, Karamakate realizes what he has to truly do in order to make “the white man” understand the values of his people. It’s a cinematic experience, certainly unlike many others, but I appreciated the message.

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Embrace of The Serpent can also be a tad shocking at times and certainly jarring to say the least. This is most evident during the latter storyline when we revisit the Christian mission to see that it has been taken over by an insane person who believes himself to be the son of God. I was thoroughly disturbed, especially by what the madman devours right before Karamakate and Evan are tasked with curing the psychopath’s dying wife. How this sequence ends is truly shocking and twisted as well, making the movie such an unnerving experience due to it being equal parts horrific and visually beautiful.

The performances all felt extremely genuine and it probably helps when a Canadian such as myself watches a Foreign film not knowing any of the acting talent beforehand. Everyone was perfect, but Nilbio Torres as the younger Karamakate was spectacular and I’d love to see him in more features. Brionne Davis was also a stand-out for me and FUN FACT: He played a prison inmate who tried to shank Ray Donovan’s brother in season three.

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Both stunning and strange, Embrace of The Serpent is one of the most fascinating and thought provoking features I’ve seen in a long time. Wonderful performances, gorgeous landscapes and bizarre encounters make for a trip that everyone should take at least once – now where can I get some of that Yakruna for real please?

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