Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente)


Ain't no mountain high enough.

Ain’t no mountain high enough.

(2015) Drama (Oscilloscope Laboratories) Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet, Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis, Yauenkű Migue, Nicolás Cancino, Luigi Sciamanna. Directed by Ciro Guerra

 

The journeys we undertake aren’t always the journeys we intend to make. We see ourselves as searching for something, but it isn’t always what we’re searching for that we’re destined to find.

This black and white masterpiece is the story of Karamakate, a native of the Amazonian rain forest who as a young man (Torres) removed himself from his tribe after white Imperialists, on the hunt for rubber, essentially massacred most of them. When a German scientist named Theo van Martius (Bijvoet) arrives at his hut, asking for help in locating yakruna, a plant with reputed medicinal qualities that might save him from the disease that is killing him. Karamakate, with a severe mistrust of whites, is disinclined to assist but Theo’s aide Manduca (Migue), also a native, implores the shaman Karamakate gives in.

Forty years later, an aged Karamakate (Bolivar) encounters another scientist, this one named Evan (Davis) who is searching for yakruna to gain knowledge rather than for any professed self-interest. By this age, the shaman is less aggressive in his dislike for Europeans and agrees to accompany Evan on the journey to find the plant, although he believes Evan already knows where it is – because Karamakate has begun to forget.

This is a movie that takes its cues from such disparate sources as Apocalypse Now!, Fitzcarraldo and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Joseph Conrad would most certainly have approved. The journey into the jungle is one that filmmakers and writers have been fascinated with for a long time, of civilized men venturing into places where no modern civilization exists. We’ve often seen these movies through the viewpoints of the outsiders; here, we are seeing the story of one of the natives, one disillusioned with the world that is changing into something that he realizes will destroy his people and his culture – even the eternal jungle itself.

He chose to film this in black and white, and forego the vibrant colors of the rain forest. Some might think he’s absolutely nuts for doing this, but I think it’s a brilliant move. By going black and white, he brings the film to its own essence and refuses to dazzle us and distract us with the vivid colors of the Amazon. The waters become murky and as ink; the shadows deepen and the light becomes more vivid. We are left instead to ponder the journey itself rather than the scenery.

Memory is another theme to the movie, as Karamakate grows older he is unable to interpret the glyphs on the side of his hut, or remember things like where the last yakruna is growing. There are various encounters that lead the filmmaker to posit that the cultures of the Amazon are forgetting themselves as the incursion of Europeans into the delta have driven cultural memory out in the insatiable urge for exploitation and profit.

The acting, much of it by natives of the Colombian rainforest, is natural. We never get a sense of people playing roles as much as people inhabiting them. The mesmerizing script is the story here as we see the results of colonialism, toxic to the Europeans as it was to the natives albeit not in the same way. The movie is based on the diaries of two real life explorers of roughly the same era as depicted here. The only misstep is a psychedelic sequence (the only color sequence in the film) near the end of the movie. It doesn’t really add anything and seems to be more of a tip of the hat to Stanley Kubrick than anything else.

This is a powerful movie, one that takes you on a journey into the heart of darkness and populates it with taciturn forest dwellers, brutal priests, broken slaves and messianic madmen. This Oscar nominee really didn’t get the kind of buzz that other movies, backed by bigger studios, received but it deserved its place at the table. Definitely one of the best movies of the year.

REASONS TO GO: A haunting and powerful treatise. Gorgeous black and white photography. Treats natives with respect.
REASONS TO STAY: A psychedelic sequence near the end (the only color in the film) is ill-advised.
FAMILY VALUES: Some aboriginal nudity, a little bit of violence and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first film from Columbia to make the final nominations for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/6/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 99% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Apocalypse Now!
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: A Space Program

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New Releases for the Week of April 1, 2016


Meet the BlacksMEET THE BLACKS

(Freestyle Releasing) Mike Epps, Bresha Webb, George Lopez, Mike Tyson, Zulay Henao, Lavell Crawford, Perez Hilton, DeRay Davis. Directed by Deon Taylor

The Black family has moved into Beverly Hills. Considering that the Black family is actually a black family, that doesn’t go over well with the locals. And when the Purge comes (yes, this is a spoof of the Purge), you know who everyone in the neighborhood is gunning for.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror Spoof
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for pervasive language, some sexual material, violence and drug use)

Embrace of the Serpent

(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet, Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis. A shaman, the last of his tribe in the Amazonian rain forest, forges a relationship with two scientists who are trying to find a plant said to have miraculous healing powers in the jungle. Filmed in black and white, this stark and moving film was the Brazilian entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the most recent Oscars, making the final five.

See the trailer, clips, interviews, a featurette and B-roll video here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: NR

Eye in the Sky

(Bleecker Street) Helen Mirren, Aaron Paul, Alan Rickman, Phoebe Fox. It started out as a surveillance mission, locating and observing members of a terrorist cell in Kenya. However, it is discovered that a massive suicide bombing is about to take place and the mission turns from an observation mission to a kill mission. Then even that is complicated by the appearance of a 9-year-old girl playing in the yard. The moral implications become a metaphor for the nature of war in our time.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Most larger multiplexes throughout Central Florida

Rating: R (for violent images and language)

God is Dead 2

(Pure Flix) Melissa Joan Hart, Jesse Metcalfe, Ernie Hudson, Ray Wise. When a Christian teacher honestly answers a question about Jesus in the classroom, it causes a storm of controversy that threatens her job and may forever banish Christianity from public classrooms…oh, who am I kidding? This drivel is for viewers of Fox News only.

See the trailer and clips here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Christian Paranoid Fantasy
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG (for some thematic elements)

I Saw the Light

(Sony Classics)  Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Olsen, Cherry Jones, Bradley Whitford. This is the story of Hank Williams, one of the greatest and most influential figures in the history of country and western music. His meteoric rise to fame was only matched by the catastrophic effects of that fame on his health and personal life.

See the trailer, clips and premiere footage here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for some language and brief sexuality/nudity)

Marguerite

(Cohen Media Group) Catherine Frot, André Marcon, Michel Fau, Christa Théret. Loosely based on the life of American Florence Foster Jenkins, this is the story of Marguerite Dumont, a wealthy matron living in the Paris of the 1920s. Fancying herself a singer, she is blissfully ignorant that she can’t sing a note. Nonetheless determined to put on a charity recital, she enlists the help of a reluctant maestro to train her for the event, not realizing that none of her friends and family have the heart to tell her the truth.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website.

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: R (for brief graphic nudity and sexual content, and a scene of drug use)

Pick of the Litter – February 2016


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Embrace of the Serpent

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(Oscilloscope Laboratories) Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet, Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis. A shaman for an Amazonian tribe in the rain forests of Brazil could be the key to finding a plant that could heal millions. Two scientists undergo a 40-year relationship with him, the last of his people as the encroachments of modern society on the rain forest threaten their research – and the lives of the indigenous people. Filmed in black and white, this is a nominee for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Oscars and judging from the trailer, looks absolutely transcendent. . February 17

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