Embrace of the Serpent ★★★★★

We are taken through time and space during two hours in the heart of the Amazon, transported from our own world and immersed into a cultural viewpoint rarely seen or understood elsewhere. Ciro Guerra magically achieves that, viewing the West and its destructive tendencies through the eyes of a man who has seen his heritage corrupted by colonial invaders.

Basing the story on the journals of European explorers who visited unseen tribes in the 20th century, we move seamlessly between timelines, as two scientists seek the help of the same native man to lead them toward a rare and sacred plant. Karamakate is representative of the mysterious spirituality that appears to layer every tree, rock, animal and waterway around them. Just as he sees the two explorers as one man, visiting him as a younger and older warrior, we view a similar duality within himself.

There is an immense level of respect given to the jungle and the tribes that live within it by Guerra and that time given to understanding this way of life shifts us into what feels like another world entirely. Shooting on 35mm stock in black and white could not have been easy at all in such an unforgiving environment but it creates a powerful mysticism that would not have been possible digitally, or in colour.

This is an instinctive and philosophical journey of self-discovery both for the characters and those that can connect with it. The story may feel small and simple yet we are taken through the expanse of the universe to question our own significance and position within it. Not many films can offer such a transformative experience and Embrace of the Serpent is one that you will find hard to escape in your dreams.

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