- Product Rating -

Art House Asshole : Embrace of the Serpent

| August 12, 2016

You know how when you’re wanting to go to the movie theater and you look up all the films that are showing and there are alway at least three that you’ve never heard of, let alone have any interest in seeing? Well, good news! I’ve seen those movies. I spend most of my theater experiences in art house theaters watching those movies that you’ve never heard of and then never watch. Yeah, I’m that hipster asshole. My goal with this is to spread information out about these films, that way you can decide one of the following. “That actually sounds pretty cool! I want to see that now!” or “Man, I’m glad I decided to go see the new superhero movie!”. So without further ado, here is my article and review of Embrace of the Serpent.

Embrace of the Serpent is the first, and so far only, Colombian Film to be nominated for the “Best Foreign Language Film” for the Oscars. I haven’t seen many of the other nominees yet but god damn this film is incredible. This is the kind of film that you watch and realize that you will never get a film like this made in America. This film is so deep in theme and visuals that it’s hard to look away from the screen, not because you will miss something and become lost, but because you will miss a throw-away line that has more meaning and depth to it than most feature length scripts.

The film at its core is an Adventure Film. The film follows Karamakate, a Shaman and the last surviving member of his tribe on the Amazon river. You see him in two different parts of his life, when he is young in 1909 and when he is old in 1940. In 1909 he and Theodor Koch-Grünberg, a German ethnologist, set down the river in search of yakruna. Yakruna being the only plant that can cure Theodor’s disease. In 1940, Karamakate leads Richard Evans Schultes an American Botanist, down the river in search of the same flower for reasons that are kept a secret until the end of the film. The film is very reminiscent of fun and lovely adventure films from the 80s. So imagine those films but super dark and smart, but without most of the fun. That’s what you get with Embrace the Serpent.

The acting in the film is worth mentioning as the director used no-experience actors to play most of the natives and Young Karamakate. With that, all of these characters are surprisingly well acted. Young Karamakate is easily one of the best parts of the film and is the primary protagonist of the film. He is the most complex character, yet someone with close to no experience completely knocks the performance out of the park and that is nothing to balk at. The other actor worth mentioning is Jan Bijvoet, who plays Theodor. Jan Bijvoet is known, to me at least, as the actor from The Broken Circle Breakdown from Felix van Groningen. The Broken Circle Breakdown is another fantastic film that I highly recommend. It was also nominated for “Best Foreign Language Film” in its year. So let this be a message to directors from countries other than the US or the UK if you want to be nominated for “Best Foreign Language Film” cast this dude because he is the Meryl Streep of the world. He is also fantastic as you see his relationship with Karamakate, as it swings back and forth between trust and doubt. He is without a doubt the second most interesting character in the film and the chemistry between him and Karamakate is one of the best parts of the film.

The film is gorgeous to look at. The film is shot in black and white, and the cinematographer takes advantage of that. There were a lot of moments in the film where the beauty of Colombia really shined. The film was shot on the actual Amazon river and the film benefits from that completely. The scenery is breath-taking but at the same time adds to the overall tone and to the story. When the character has a bad feeling about a location they are sailing into, you have a bad feeling because yeah, it looks pretty dangerous. It really reminds you that you shouldn’t go into the Amazon and sail the river because you will probably be killed. That’s not a spoiler, by the way, it is just an independent thought I had while watching some of the most disturbing portions of the film. The cinematography is the only problem I had with the film, though. I’m not sure if they used different cameras for the two different areas that the film took place in, but the later era always seemed clearer and shot better. I’m not sure if that was the camera they used or just happen stance, but it is something that I notice while watching the film that the cinematography during the early segments is often not as well developed than the later segments.

This film is based on a true story or true stories as it is adapted from two different diaries of the two explorers. And one of the reasons why I feel as though this film could not be made in America is because the film is told in multiple different languages. Not only that, but the film is told in primarily four languages that are close to extinction. The director, Ciro Guerra, made the choice to have the film told in the original languages of each of the tribes in the Amazon. This is an example of attention to detail that is rarely seen in cinema, it is also one that I highly appreciate when directors take the time to do this. Especially when some of your actors don’t speak those languages.

I highly recommend this film. I don’t think it is depressing or dark enough to turn off a lot of audiences, but I think it has enough of that to keep its own style and individualize tone. I didn’t bring up the themes the film dives into because I think it is better if you just go in not knowing what the film is going to say. But understand that it is extremely rich in themes and you will walk away thinking about at least five of the things the film had to say. The ending might be confusing, but it doesn’t take away from the rest of this almost perfect film. If you have the time to watch this film, do it. You won’t regret it.

About the Author:

Henry Jarvis is the youngest member of the Reel Nerds. His favorite films include Space Jam and Dude, Where’s My Car? and Lawrence of Arabia. He enjoys those pretentious art house films that Ryan hates. He sees a lot of movies! Honestly more than he should. He replaces his lack of social skills and meaningful friendships with his love of cinema! He’s also crying while he writes this biography for himself. His favorite directors are Andrei Tarkovsky, David Fincher, and David Lean.

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