It was no surprise to Colombian writer/director Ciro Guerra when his movie Embrace of the Serpent didn't win an Oscar this year. When New Times spoke with him a few weeks before the Academy Awards show about his nomination, he laughed and said, “Honestly, I have no idea how it works. I’m just very happy that we made it all the way. I don’t have any expectations.”
As the first Colombian film to be nominated for an Oscar, it made history regardless. And what a film it is. Taking place in two eras of exploration in the Amazon jungle, one by an ethnographer at the turn of the century and another by an ethnobotanist about 40 years later, Embrace of the Serpent follows the last living survivor of the
The film was shot on black-and-white super 35 film, for the most part (it bursts in color for a climactic finale). Guerra said he had many reasons for shooting the film this way. One was the black and white photography in the books he studied, the journals of German ethnographer Theodor Koch-Grünberg and the ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes, who inspired the characters of the two explorers in the film, Theo (Jan Bijvoet) and Evan (
On a more profound
Guerra’s efforts to transport the audience extends to a magnificent score by
“I was trying to find a way that allowed the audience to see the world [as] the Amazonians understand time,” Guerra says of his storytelling. “They have a conception that is closer to quantum physics, this idea of time not being a linear thing but simultaneous multiplicity.”
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The film builds to an incredible climax. Guerra says about the ending, “It’s an abstraction, but it’s also a glimpse of when you have this spiritual experience. You experience a fracture, sort of the world breaks and opens up, and so the film needed to break itself at that point. It needed to crack itself open and show you a glimpse of something you cannot really understand, that you cannot explain, but you are aware of its power.”
Opens Friday, March 11, at Miami Beach Cinematheque, O Cinema Wynwood, and the Bill Cosford Cinema. March 14, the film will screen at Tower Theater.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.