Embrace Of The Serpent

500 Days Of Film Reviews The Oscar Nominated Embrace Of The Serpent

Karamakate is an Amazonian shaman - the last survivor of his people, many of whom have been killed by merciless rubber barons. Over the course of 40 years, Karamakate meets and guides two white scientists. Both are searching the Amazon jungle for the illusive Yakruna plant - thought to contain sacred and powerful healing properties.


Initially suspicious of their true motives, Karamakate teaches them the ways of the jungle and the importance of tribal culture, nature and dreams.

Is It Any Good?

Intense and deeply poetic, Embrace Of The Serpent explores how the ravages of colonialism cast a dark shadow over the South American landscape.


Director Circo Guerra’s film was inspired by the real-life journals of two explorers (Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes) who traveled through the Colombian Amazon during the last century in search of the sacred and difficult-to-find psychedelic Yakruna plant.



Embrace Of The Serpent draws you into its adventure and keeps you in its beautiful grasp until the very end. The gorgeous black and white cinematography and the stunning performances (particularly from Nilbio Torres as young Karamakate and Antonio Bolívar Salvador as old Karamakate) feel wonderfully authentic- a wormhole in time allowing us to see a truly important story.


Guerra filmed on location in the Amazon jungle and in collaboration with the indigenous Amazonian communities there (many of whom appear in the film).

Salvador, for example, is one of the last survivors of the Ocaina people. He resides near Leticia and has some previous filmmaking experience, but prefers not to speak about it because he feels that the films were disrespectful to his culture.


He is, however, proud of Embrace Of The Serpent stating (on the film’s website) that it “shows the Amazon, the lungs of the world, the greater purifying filter and the most valuable of indigenous culture. That is its greatest achievement.”


Meanwhile, this is Torres’ first acting experience. He also supports Guerra’s narrative vision: “What Ciro is doing with this film is an homage to the memory of our elders, in the time before; the way the white men treated the natives, the rubber exploitation.


"I’ve asked the elders how it was and it is as seen on the film, that’s why we decided to support it. For the elders and myself it is a memory of the ancestors and their knowledge.”



Watching Embrace Of The Serpent, teaches us much about the natural world. Karamakate is bemused by his white companions’ attachment to “things”. He encourages them to rid themselves of this baggage, to look up from their maps and appreciate, respect and learn from their surroundings. 


This certainly resonated with me. In today’s world where many of us are far removed from the heart of nature, Embrace Of The Serpent awakens a latent desire for a more spiritual existence.


Meanwhile, in an interview with Deadline, Guerra explains that his film is a visual experience. “When I sit there in the dark, that’s what I’m asking for: to be taken, enraptured and transformed. Today, a lot of movies are essentially [like] other movies that were done before. But cinema can also be about life—it can be life—and there’s an audience out there looking for that.”


I just couldn’t agree more.


Random Observations

Embrace Of The Serpent was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, eventually losing to Son Of Saul.


This movie is Circo Guerra’s third feature film.


Guerra was inspired to shoot his film in black and white after looking at the black and white photographs of early 20th Century explorers. He also felt that the monochrome palette would spark his audience’s imagination. 


Have you seen Embrace Of The Serpent? 


If so, what did you think of this film? Do let me know by leaving your thoughts in the comments section below!

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones

E: jane@500daysoffilm.com


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