Embrace of the Serpent

By the end of the month, faithful viewers of the Academy Awards will see if Ciro Guerra’s Embrace of the Serpent is able to beat out the other pictures competing for Best Foreign Language Film of the Year.  I can’t comment if Guerra’s film is better than the other contenders, but I think the Academy was very generous by nominating it in the first place.

I didn’t feel engaged by Embrace of the Serpent.  I thought Guerra’s screenplay (which is based off of dairies by German explorer Theodor Koch-Grunberg and American biologist Richard Evans Schultes) had a difficult time channeling two storylines.  We eventually find out both adventures tie in with each other (or at least share paralleling thoughts and conversations), but the realization never evolves past a shoulder shrug.  We admire the performances nonetheless.  It’s always a pleasure to watch Borgman’s Jan Bijvoet at work.

The colourless cinematography captures striking images of the Amazon forest as our characters row down its river, and we can’t help but be initially hooked when new discoveries are made or new people enter the film.  Unfortunately, the confrontations linger up until their abrupt finales.

Ciro Guerra, I suppose, could’ve found more cohesiveness if he decided to structure his movie as a series of vignettes or separate them into short films.  If he’s drawing from personal diaries, he needed to let those events and intellectual conversations breathe within their own vehicles.

Embrace of the Serpent, a drab third outing for the filmmaker, feels as if it’s trying to keep up with its ticking runtime.


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