Norman Vincent Peale’s most notable quote is “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars” – a warming sentiment now widely observed on cards, mugs and viral Facebook posts. When films are made about difficult subjects, they can often become the embodiment of Peale’s quote. A good try, yet an incomplete execution. Embrace of the Serpent is a film that shoots for the moon and lands with ease, grace and nuance; a landing so perfect it infuses the viewer with a love of cinema and its possibilities.
The film itself, Ciro Guerra’s third feature, is nothing short of a masterpiece. Embrace of the Serpent is such a masterclass in storytelling that to focus solely upon the plot would do the film and its maker a disservice. The film follows two stories, 40 years apart, about Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman, aiding two separate scientists’ search for a magical plant. Dual monochrome road-trip movies, in simpler terms.
Yet it is not that simple. Guerra’s film is a beast with every element contributing to its brilliance – from David Gallego’s stunning black-and-white cinematography, offering the film its power and dreamlike nature, to the sensational performances of both old and young Karamakate (Torres and Bolivar). And to Guerra himself, who has created a film bursting with warnings about the impact of colonialism, yet without becoming a ‘message film’. Guerra has captured so much more. Something almost untangible, something poetic, something outstanding.
So often films attempt to capture our dreams, yet only capture glimpses, flashes or essences of them. For Embrace of the Serpent, Guerra somehow captures every sinew and detail of your wildest, most fantastical dreams with unerring skill, nuance and flair. A sensational film in every regard.
CAST: Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet, Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis
DIRECTOR: Ciro Guerra
WRITERS: Ciro Guerra & Jacques Toulemonde Vidal (screenplay), Theodor Koch-Grunberg (based on the diary by), Richard Evans Schultes (based on the diary by)
SYNOPSIS: Embrace of the Serpent is the story of the relationship between Karamakate, an Amazonian shaman and last survivor of his people, and two scientists who work together over the course of 40 years to search the Amazon for a sacred healing plant.