Sunday, 11 October 2015


Jungle madness consumes in Ciro Guerra's Embrace of the Serpent, a film that's too self-consciously detached from what it depicts to truly succumb to some of that madness itself. I have no qualms with Guerra's decision to distance himself from his action, enabling him to engage in the discourse that he's developing, but too often do his contributions here feel didactic and overly verbose, and their effect thus reductive. And he can't offer up enough cohesive commentary on what occurs in Embrace of the Serpent to excuse its fundamental flaws - its dismissive attitude toward women, its surprising visual illiteracy, its unintentional glorification of the white males it simultaneously attempts to garrotte. Guerra falls into the trap that he fails to notice he's set for himself, engendering as much empathy for his most callous characters as disdain for his most noble. This is all quite the shame, because evident in Embrace of the Serpent is an identifiable intellect behind this creation, as derivative as it often is. Guerra's heart is pure, his appreciation of the aboriginal ethics of these Amazonian tribes ringing true, his concurrent resentment of the pathetic dependency of the white man equally so. Whiteness is rendered as otherness, a violation of the natural world that brings exclusively pain. There's a thought-provoking development toward the end that sets even the film's title askew, and the respect that Guerra encourages us to place in these tribes and their ever-dwindling lifestyle is apparent, even as he can't quash the contradictions that he sets alongside that respect.