Set in the Amazon rainforest, Embrace of the Serpent tells two stories, separated by decades but united in the person of indigenous Amazonian Karamakate. In the first storyline, set in 1909, Karamakate becomes the reluctant guide to Theodor Koch-Grunberg, a gravely ill German anthropologist who believes his only chance of recovery is by travelling deep into the forest to find a sacred plant once cultivated by Karamakate’s people which may or may not exist anymore (Karamakate’s people might not exist anymore either, as they have fled into the wilderness to escape encroaching rubber plantations). Several decades later, an aging Karamakate is recruited by an American scientist to retrace the journey of 1909; the American is ostensibly looking for the sacred plant, but may have ulterior motives. As we watch Karamakate’s journey unfold, we are witnesses to a series of nightmarish tableaux, as we see the depredations of the white rubber farmers and cultural destruction wrought by racist missionaries. It’s a hypnotic film, alternately beautiful and horrifying.
Read more: 6 Great Indigenous Movies, by James Spillane, October 10, 2016, City Pages, Arts & Leisure