Movie: Embrace of the Serpent

I need to sit with this movie for a while. Filmed in black and white, it is the story of two journeys along the Amazon, thirty years apart.  The first is in 1909, with a very ill German ethnologist, Theodor Koch-Grunberg being rowed up the river by a westernized local, Manduca, whom he had saved from the rubber plantations.  He is seeking the the hallucinogenic plant yakruna  to save his life.  The second journey is in 1940 with the ethnobiologist Richard Evans Schultes also traversing the sinuous river, armed with the published edition of Koch-Grunberg’s journals.  Both men, some thirty years apart, encounter Karamakate, who lives alone separate from his tribe, and demand that he guide them on their quest.  Karamakate is a young man in 1909, fired up by the injustices of the rubber plantation owners; by 1940 he is much older, forgetful but even more disgusted by the cruelty and appropriation. With shades of Apocalypse Now, the strict religion introduced with the white man, with its abuse of children and obliteration of culture and language,  has warped into an even more alarming violent, messianic cult.

Its critique of colonialism and capitalism is trenchant, and its photography is stunning.  I still need to think about it.  [Post-script: it’s no longer showing at the cinema. Obviously I sat and thought about it for too long!]

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