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Embrace of the Serpent


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This is a film worth tracking down, my favorite new film so far this year.  Filmed in Colombia, it tells the story of an Indian shaman and his relationship with two scientists, and is based loosely on the journals of these two scientists, a German ethnologist and a Boston botanist.

The black and white photography is simply stunning, making great use of the Amazonia scenery.  And the encounters these three characters have on their journeys are so intense and immersive, that I was literally dazzled and near-dissociative by the film's end (but in a good way).  I was reminded of The Mission and the Werner Herzog/Klaus Kinski South American films, in terms of Serpent's look at the effects of colonialism and the near-hallucinatory intensity of its imagery/story.

I don't begrudge Son of Saul its Foreign Language Oscar win (another superb film), but if I'd been a voter, it would've been a tough call between these two.

Here's my review:  http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2016/03/embrace-of-the-serpent-delivers-a-stunning-view-of-south-american-jungle-life/

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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  • 3 months later...
  • 3 years later...

Joel, Thanks for the bump and for recommending this elsewhere. I saw it on Amazon Prime (Amazon owns the rights to the film, so it will stay there). I will be giving it a very high score and agree that it should be a priority.

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On 3/29/2016 at 3:45 AM, Andrew said:

I was reminded of The Mission and the Werner Herzog/Klaus Kinski South American films, in terms of Serpent's look at the effects of colonialism and the near-hallucinatory intensity of its imagery/story.

The film I watched just prior to watching this one was Fitzcarraldo. They really do have a lot in common in their respective river quests, even down the the phonograph! They're set at the same time in nearly the same place, yet they are so, so different.

And I rewatched The Mission not long ago as well. I remember a line that the Cardinal says, "I'd been sent to sever an arm off the church," a beautiful arm or something like that, referring to the Jesuit missions and the Native converts, and the appearance of the Native man with a severed arm in Serpent seemed really potent. 

I thought it was interesting how missions also feature in all three with varying degrees of prominence. Each film looks at them as part and parcel of colonialism, but I though that the horrors in Serpent were another example of how bad things could be without the right focus and without proper oversight, as in The MissionThe Mission shows both how good things can be with a good focus (working with the Natives, protecting their rights as humans) even as we can critique the colonial impulses that accompanied the evangelization. It's different than the view that 

I still felt the the syncretism of Serpent ("the worst of both worlds" as Karamakate says) allowed room for someone like me who is sympathetic to evangelization as part of the mission of the church (as distinct from colonialism and prostelization, as I remember reading something from Pope Francis, himself a Euro-South American, pointing out the difference) to see that syncretism as a foil for the kind of Native Christian faith that is the best of both worlds, what I think The Mission tries to show within the confines of historical accuracy (so still far from the "best" of what European Christians were or could be doing).

I plan to vote highly for this in Top 100 voting. Karamakate is such a compelling central character, and observing his spirituality was a beautiful thing. I thought the balance of Western and indigenous perspectives here was just right. I don't think there's anything wrong with the European perspective of The Mission, as it's telling a different story, though also about indigenous rights. I'm afraid I didn't find the perspective on indigenous people in Fitzcarraldo anything but that they're exploitable and expendable extras, but that's just my reaction.

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7 hours ago, Rob Z said:

I thought it was interesting how missions also feature in all three with varying degrees of prominence. Each film looks at them as part and parcel of colonialism, but I though that the horrors in Serpent were another example of how bad things could be without the right focus and without proper oversight, as in The MissionThe Mission shows both how good things can be with a good focus (working with the Natives, protecting their rights as humans) even as we can critique the colonial impulses that accompanied the evangelization.

I thought of The Mission and Fitzcarraldo too, as well as The Lost City of Z (another missed Top 100 nominee!). But the film that actually came to mind the most for me as I thought about it afterward was 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Well, this was upsetting to come across: https://www.indiewire.com/2020/06/ciro-guerra-denies-sexual-harassment-abuse-1234569554/

I suspect Guerra is on his way to cancel country, with what looks to be good reason.  His Birds of Passage (2018) is almost as excellent as this film, and he's got another film dropping on streaming platforms tomorrow (Waiting for the Barbarians), which was at 50% on RT last I checked.

To be an artist is never to avert one's eyes.
- Akira Kurosawa

https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/

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