Embrace of the Serpent (‘El Abrazo de la Serpiente’)

DRAMA; 2hr 4min (Spanish with subtitles)

STARRING: Jan Bijvoet, Brionne Davis, Antonio Bolivar Salvador, Nilbio Torres

The intruder: Bijvoet

The Colombian Amazon is as quiet as a cathedral. Cloaking mysteries you sense should never be solved, its only sounds are the plaintive cheep of birds and the splash and roar of the river water on which two explorers, four generations apart, seek the sacred healing plant yakruna. German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grunberg (Bijvoet) is the first in 1909, followed 40 years later by American ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes (Davis). Both are guided by the same shaman and hermitic sole survivor, Karamakate (Torres as a young man, Bolivar Salvador later), who deeply distrusts subjugating white men but is drawn in despite it.


Working from the diaries of the actual explorers and filming in luminous black-and-white to intensify a lulling thrall, director Ciro Guerra drifts back and forward between two eras. The plundering of the region by self-serving outsiders is mirrored by each individual's course—Theo, homesick and dying yet gripped by his passion for the people and the place, Evan, unwittingly bound for self-discovery, and Karamakate, reawakening after years of solitude. Their intertwined journeys are beautiful, frightful, and at their wildest, half-crazed.